Transcript: I’d like to wrap up my remarks about self creation, self invention, and the challenge of The Eternal Recurrence by saying that we need to remember that this has to do… that this has to do with what I mentioned later in the lecture: the love of fate. Loving the place you have found yourself in history. And sometimes that’s a difficult thing to do, and for me that’s a quite personal remark that has to do with my own self invention. To try to love the place I have found myself in history, like many other people now is… I find that difficult. Nietzsche on the other hand thought it might be difficult, but it was a challenge that we should attempt to meet.
In this next set of remarks I’d like to address The Will to Power, and of course that gives me a chance to address something that I probably should have talked about in the opening lecture because in a set of lectures on Nietzsche in which we want to reach an audience – a very wide audience – we need to dispel some of the myths about Nietzsche’s text and concerning Nietzsche, and one of the most prevalent – and certainly it’s a widespread myth, you can find it in many places – is the myth of… well I want to first say it’s a myth and then to argue the danger and risk in Nietzsche’s text that – because I use myth in a strong sense – that allows it to be possible.
I wanted to discuss – just for a moment – the relation of Nietzsche’s work to Fascism, and the reason I want to do that is because the first, sort of, Americanised reception of Nietzsche involved the use of Nietzsche’s text for propaganda purposes by various National Socialist Party hacks. Unfortunately it belongs to the nature of propaganda; even by the good guys, who counter propaganda… as if we knew who the good guys were, after all the events that have occurred. I mean, this isn’t going to turn out to be a defence of the Fascists or anything, it’s not. I hope it doesn’t turn out to be a defence of any parties. I wish them all equal luck.
In the words of Nietzsche, “Whatever is shaky should be pushed over”. If something is shaky… on a shaky foundation, his advice is to push it over. If it’s not on a shaky foundation then when you push, it will stay there and it will be okay. If it’s on a shaky foundation, push it over. In any case, ah, the counter-propaganda also involved Nietzsche and the British in their efforts to combat Nazi propaganda also participated in – just like the Nazi’s were – valorising certain remarks of Nietzsche’s. Then the British were at the same time demonizing those remarks and that couldn’t help but effect the reception of his work in England. And since in the United States – I may have earlier remarked – we are so in love with British intellectuals, we know they couldn’t be wrong about anything; just because of their damn accent. You use that accent and American academics begin to swoon and, you know, they go into almost orgasmic reactions to what is being said.
We knew that this British reception of Nietzsche must mean that he’s… you know, like, the philosopher of Fascism. Well, there are elements in Nietzsche’s text that open up onto the risk of a hideous new project in which against the technological world we try to reinvigorate it through blood, steel and a new human being – the famous overman which I will discuss when I will discuss the text of Zarathustra – that such a, sort of, clever interpretation could then be used for propaganda purposes is clear; it was. Clearly it could be used that way.
I don’t think that – to be fair to the text of Nietzsche – that this use is one that can in any sense be authorised under older, fairer standards of interpretation – however I should say that those are the very standards that Nietzsche himself had attacked: older, fairer standards of interpretation. But by those hermeneutic standards of interpretation – the older, fairer ones – it would be fair to point out that Nietzsche always viewed himself as a good European, rather than a good German.
He just laid tonnes upon tonnes of abuse upon those narrow nationalists who were good Germans and always talked about the Teutonic forests. Once Nietzsche said “Well, back to the forests with them then”, you know… “They are just boring the hell out of me, I hope they go live in a forest” Sort of the way I feel about a lot of the rhetoric in the United States on the right today, sort of, “Oh, it’s so good…” go from coast to shining coast and Bangor to shining Maine, or whatever the hell you want to do.
But ah, no, Nietzsche just scorned this German nationalism. It’s hard to imagine that someone so sensitive that the event that finally, as it were, tripped Nietzsche off into madness – another topic we will talk about in the lectures that remain – the event that finally tripped him into madness was someone beating a horse with a whip. Someone that sensitive; with that sensitive a nature, in a certain way, it’s hard to imagine would have done well had he lived long enough as a great propagandist for that gang of petty bourgeois thugs that took over Germany and became the Nazi Party, so… I think that that was a dangerous misunderstanding of the text of Nietzsche.
However – and this is the admission that I think is necessary to show the risk of the text – however, once you have introduced processes of radical self creation and redirection… left the wide open… and then argued for the strongest possible misinterpretations, you know, the ones that are the most creative and interesting and new, clearly you’ve opened yourself up to possibilities of violence, death, madness, and many other things as well. Well that’s the admission on the one hand, not that it needs to be admitted.
We live in the 20th century, one of the most – perhaps the most – barbaric century in the history of the world. I mean, if there was a central fact to our century it would be murder: the killing of a people by their people. So to take before the bar this one rather literate, cosmopolitan, quiet little man who wrote these rather exciting texts as some causative factor in that much larger process, I think is overkill of a very high order.
In any case, his text does open onto the danger of fascism, but as I said, that for me is not an objection because dangerous and insane risks are taken in his text in other directions as well. And that many texts have risks, many interesting texts, many interesting bodies of work have risks and many uses. The standard though americanised pop line that Nietzsche was – for the Germans – “superman” and “blond beast” is just simple minded. So that’s not a criticism, it doesn’t mean there aren’t lines in his work that are like that, but its simple minded, and that should be enough to move slightly past that. It’s a simple minded way to look at Nietzsche. Far too simple minded.
And that’s not – as I say – to get out of the trap that Nietzsche’s text is full of risks. However, an odd thing has happened, and in the return of Nietzsche in our own time is that well at one time he was used for ideological purposes in the National Socialists and the movement of Fascism, according to
…because the Nietzsche denounced by Bloom is the person who argues for strong multiple interpretations for recreating, you know, canons and destroying older canons of knowledge. The Nietzsche that said if things are shaky, push them over… that Nietzsche.
So, you know, it’s hard if one wants to place simple moral blame upon a body of text to go “Well Nietzsche was responsible for Fascism, and damnit now he’s responsible for its opposite number, Anarchism. Why wasn’t he just a damn good Liberal like John Stuart Mill?” Well, he thought Mill was a blockhead. [crowd laughter] You know, “Why wasn’t he just a middle of the roader?”… you know, the current politics that seems to dominate today: a middle of the roader, mainstream.
Well to quote my friend Hightower from Texas there’s nothing in the middle of the road where I come from except yellow lines and squashed armadillos. [crowd laughter]. And so I am glad that Nietzsche’s text isn’t in the middle of the road and it does allow for multiple political uses, and some of those I want to talk about now in terms of The Will to Power. And I am going to have to return – in order to do that – to my discussions of genealogies.
Before I do I want to leave one more note on Jesse Jackson in the lecture – I am not his campaign manager – it’s just an interesting example, but I have been asked, you know, if he has this real courage of self creation, why doesn’t he run for a real job like mayor. That would show real courage. Well my view of that – and I don’t know if it was Nietzsche’s, and I don’t care – my view of that is it doesn’t take real courage to be a mayor, a governor, a senator, a president, real courage to be the head of a bureaucracy, real courage to be the president of IBM, but it does take real courage – as you know if you live in the Washington D.C. area – to sleep under the bridges at night. It takes a lot more courage. So I am not sure that running for mayor is something that we should particularly valorise as an act of courage. I mean, in a certain way it takes far more courage to be a pimp than a politician, even though in many other respects the jobs are similar. [crowd laughter] Enough of that for now… we’ll return to that later.
The Will to Power. Well first let me say that The Will to Power is the name of a text by – of Nietzsche’s – I shouldn’t say by, because The Will to Power was pieced together – in a way that makes us suspect the text itself – by his sister. And I have already, you know, denounced his sister somewhat for dressing him up, for marrying one of these “good” Germans, and for the uses she made of her brother’s persona after he lost his mind. Well, she was one of the editors that helped compile these fragments; “The Will to Power”.
Since then however, Kauffman and others have worked upon this compilation, but by now its almost useless to go back and pretend there is no such text because, as in the case of a much shorter text, namely the fragment I discussed which was “I have forgotten my umbrella”, which has now become a text of Nietzsche’s through this radical process of interpretation. So now too is “The Will to Power”, a much larger and more complex text become a text of Nietzsche’s, even though he never compiled it in that way or put it together in that way. The Will to Power is – in fact I am not sorry that it did because The Will to Power contains a host of suggestive, fascinating and interesting views, among which is Nietzsche’s famous view of power that I will be discussing.
It’s impossible to discuss it however without connecting it in some way to the process of genealogy that we discussed when we talked about “The Genealogy of Morals“. Because one of the things that genealogy was supposed to do is to show us that, as it were, what shapes discursive practices and actual human practises are certain relations of power which create the conditions for the possibility of certain sentences being written and certain practices being carried out… then calls for an account of what those relations of power are like. And in The Will to Power, Nietzsche gives us an account of “force”, as it were, or “power” that is… very interesting.
For Nietzsche, power won’t be the simple power of domination of one self over another, and the reason it can’t be that linear self over another self kind of power is because – as you may have guessed already – for Nietzsche, as for Hume in a certain way, there is no essential self. There are only, as it were, a kind of multitude of personas that when a life is well lived will have the coherence of a character. In fact isn’t that what we say about someone we know who is rather advanced in years and we want to valorise them… we say “Oh God, Old Bob or Aunt Sue was really a character”. When you say that you have said something Nietzschean about them. They have put together those various selves in a way that makes them really a character, and that’s not a bad thing to say.
Well anyway, the reason that these – that for Nietzsche – that power cannot be simply power of one person over another; can’t be that simple is because selves aren’t that simple. And also because power is not just, as it were, horizontally applied in models that we might think of like the Marxist theory of exploitation or other theories of power… how power isn’t just applied as it were across the horizon of the social body – by that I mean… by that rather wild phrase I mean – it’s not as though power is applied merely to the external manifestations that break the rules of the current existing order.
Power, as it were, is also applied vertically across the intensity and within the subjectivities of people. One way of putting this is that in some sense we internalise relations of power within ourselves that allow many of the external relations to function. Now to give a West Texas example of that is that each one of us has to have a little cop inside us – little tiny policeman inside – that keeps us from stealing, because there aren’t enough cops on the outside to keep us from doing it. And yet there are many things we want that we don’t have the money for, and under conditions where we carry out our will and valorise ourselves, we might otherwise take them.
And given the rate at which people who steal things are caught, which means much less frequently than you will be caught at work trying to take a long break, you know, kind of makes it rational to want to steal certain things… easier to do than getting by with laying off work for a while. Under those conditions it becomes clear that power also is in a sense an intensity within. Something that you bring against your own self project in a way that has been characterised by certain French theorists as “micrological power” – or sets and effects of power – rather than “macrological power”.
So if I talk to you about the police, or the state, or the even… in Marx’s sense of the power of the marketplace, these are macrological views of power and Nietzsche provides us with a micrological view and that micrological view has to do with tiny interstices of overlapping effects; very difficult to characterise, very subtle effects of power. Almost unnoticeable, in fact, they sometimes pass not for power at all – this is what a genealogical analysis is supposed to show – sometimes they don’t pass for relations of power at all, but rather for things like a good conscience, or a clear mind, or fair rules, or even fairness itself.
Those discourses, as self evident as they seem to us today, are also structured by power. And I think that to make Nietzsche’s analysis of power come alive for us now, rather than a, sort of, long account of it, I’ll give a little bit more of the, sort of, theoretical complexity of it, then I’ll give a real example to give the argument real bite, okay?
So let me give a little more of the theoretical version of it.
For Nietzsche, power is always in some sense relational. It’s not as though power is a thing we can find in the world, but it is always a complex relational set of intervening and interacting effects. It’s not always the best question to ask “What are the causes?” In some cases it might even be – although it sounds oxymoronic – it might be best to say quasi-metaphorically, or maybe metaphorically, that power sometimes gives off effects where we have what amounts to an absent cause. In other words, what the analysis really should look at are the effects and bracket out what might otherwise – in a normal analysis – might be called “the cause”.
Instead these multiple effects, these relational effects, and to use some more terminology which isn’t French; it’s modern American Lit. Crit. [Literary Criticism] terminology. These overlapping economies of power; of influence, of persuasion, of control… these micrological ones are not subject, as I say, to simple linear analysis in any one of the various modes that we might be used to. You know, analyses of – in particular – ordinary analyses of political power.
Let me see if I can cash this in with what I think is a very interesting example – and at least I hope it’s a good example. And it should lead to the next thing I want to discuss, which is Nietzsche’s view of history. I am going now to refer to Michel Foucault’s brilliant work “Discipline and Punish – and if you haven’t read it, please read it because it is a strange artefact and it would not be possible without the influence of Nietzsche – and to discuss Foucault’s “Discipline and Punish” will have us enter the terrain of the politics of reading Nietzsche, which I want to get onto now, which as I said might be a banal topic but it’s one I enjoy, so what hell, I am going to talk about it some. But Michel Foucault is someone who has made great and systematic use of parts of Nietzsche: the genealogical method, and Nietzsche’s sensitivity to these micrological relations of power.
Now for me the best work by Foucault, as I said, is “Discipline and Punish”, and in that book what Foucault is interested in is to do a genealogy of the forms of punishment and how they changed – if they did change – and in what ways they changed between this period I have characterised as “feudal” to this period I have characterised as “modern”. So Foucault starts his book with older forms of discipline and punishment. In fact the first section is on The Spectacle of the Scaffold and it begins with as gory a description as one could wish of an execution in France.
Huge audience… bring out this guy… I am just going to gloss it; don’t want to read all that stuff; it’ll turn this damn thing into a horror movie! Anyway, you had this huge audience for this execution, you bring out the guy, he’s drawn, quartered, molten lead poured into here, horses pull on him, the crowd is in an uproar, screams… tortured… pull, pull, pull, finally they drag him up and a Prelate of the church comes up… the man still can speak, you know, and he confesses that he has done wrong and courageously states that now he has paid his price; his honour to God. And then they burn him, you know, after using sulphur and so on.
Well, you read this section in Foucault and you recoil in horror from those old feudal relations and how barbaric they were. And Foucault does his best to make it come alive for you: the conditions of possibility for those practices; the arbitrary rule of kings, you know, the necessity to give the crowd its spectacles, its festivals of atonement. It’s important that the criminal declare; atone – in a spectacular public way – his crime.
Well toward the end of this long and rather barbaric chapter in feudalism – in this, sort of, feudal setting – Foucault begins to mention how the spectacle of the scaffold begins to die away, under a rather strange condition of reversal. I hope this will make Nietzsche’s genealogical example clearer too, as I use the Foucault example. The Spectacle of the Scaffold begins to die away, and one of the reasons Foucault suggests for this is that… who turns out to be the hero of the spectacle? The legislator or prince who condemned the man? The Prelate who forgave him? Or the suffering, wounded, courageous body of the victim?
Imagine the crowds and, you know, who they will eventually begin to pull for, as it were. Well, the insinuation by Foucault is that this form of exercising power across the social body begins to undermine itself through a strange reversal where the victim being slaughtered becomes, as it were, the centre, the important focal point of the ceremony and begins to win the sympathy of the crowd. And of course that’s not the idea of disciplining and punishing in that period or this one. Hardly the idea, right, for the punished party to be the star of the show.
Now you may say “Well, we have gone back to that in a way because… there’s one sure way to get a miniseries; and that’s to be a serial killer” That’s true under conditions that I will describe before the end of this lecture as post-modern, but right now we are going from feudal to modern. Under post-modern conditions things have grown so bizarre that I am not sure how I will use Nietzsche to help analyse them.
But in any case I want to go from this feudal Spectacle of the Scaffold to the modern methods of discipline and punish. The horror, sort of, evoked in us by what Foucault does there is the horror simply at a past form of life and the way they punished people. Now of course what happens after that are these great prison reforms in the 18th and 19th century.
Utilitarians for example, like Bentham, were very involved in prison reform and in ending this scaffold business and these public spectacles. No they wanted clean… I mean, they had programs like Bush‘s clean new prisons, that were sort of humane, but enough of them. So Bentham and Foucault makes brilliant use of this.
Bentham – the great Utilitarian – interestingly enough also came up with a great architectural design called a Panopticon, and it was a building where from the, sort of, the top of the building – I wish I had a drawing of it here for you – but from the top of the building you can kinda see everything that goes on down through it. And each one of the cells facing in on them – where the prisoners are – have the peculiar characteristic that you are isolated so that you cannot, you know, see the other people, but as the guards walk through in surveillance they can see you quite easily and this was very important for the device itself. This is the surveillance aspect of modern power, and this is quite micrological.
To give you an ordinary example of how modern power works in that way: you may be a perfectly honest citizen and a straightforward person, but when you walk into a department store frequently you are being filmed and watched. And it’s so ordinary, so micrological, so beneath the surface of your consciousness and everyday affects that you don’t think about it – but – you are being filmed and watched and surveilled, as you walk through the mall, as you walk through a department store… or as you drive through the city. You know, the sort of omnipresent helicopter, you know… [laughs] It’s not a paranoid delusion, you see them all the time, it’s just that you forget because of their ubiquity. Power is like that, you see. Ubiquitously running here and there, it becomes easier to forget what structures our own power. Because it’s easy to remember about the past – how barbaric it was – and sort of distance ourself from it.
Well, anyway, Bentham’s Panopticon was – as Foucault argues – a principle and not merely a building; the general principle of surveillance, and it’s been crucially important for the shift to our new forms of discipline and new forms of punishment. Bentham brilliantly shows that its no mere building by arguing: oh by the way, this same design for this Panopticon building would be absolutely appropriate for schools, workhouses, and many other socially utilisable – you know – socially utilitarian benefits. By that I mean schools could be built this way, right? So all the students were working and you could see them and they can’t see you easily and so the principal could be at the top and looking down upon the thing. Bentham thought “What a wonderful device!” This Panopticon, this sort of one way visual presentation of all the surveilled people.
And again to return to my example, you never get to see the face – do you – of the person behind the one way glass in Macy’s who is doing the filming of you as you walk up and down the aisle? Hell, who even notices anymore, right? You don’t even notice, you know hell. I mean, shouldn’t it be outrageous, you know to, sort of, this earlier generation of Americans: “What the hell are you doing filming me, I don’t steal, I am an honest, you know, God fearing, taxpaying American, I don’t want to be on your damn films; surveilled, watched, filed, numbered. I don’t want that. But the ubiquity of this kind of surveillance is just obvious.
Also, you know, we have now found out that the telephone… quite a strange instrument to pick up, because God knows who is listening and recording what you are saying. And now the possibility for multiple interpretations reinstitutes itself at a much higher level because you may in fact say on the phone “I have forgotten my umbrella”… it might click off some strange computer by some strange government agency saying “Ah this person is one of those weird interpreters of Nietzsche” And you may only be telling your Aunt Susan that you forgot your umbrella… and you are already in a huge bank of information, preinterpeted in some basement in the city where they are going over it, providing analyses to companies and agencies that provide the analyses and so on…
Power – micrological like this – very well may be beneath the level of every day life. By that I mean in every day life we may just walk past it. I mean I know I do for sure, you know, in a department store, you know sometimes I stop and wave at the little guy. And sometimes when I hear a click on the phone I stop and go “Oh I am sorry you have this job of listening to all these boring…” You know, have you ever commiserated with the surveiller? You just go “I am so sorry, you don’t have anything to do but to listen and open my mail and listen to all these phone calls. If you ever get lonely, please call and lets talk” [crowd laughter] This is a nice strategy to adopt, but anyway.
So the power of Foucault’s argument is that – is supposed to be – to show that what has happened is not that we have gone from one thing that appears to us – to our sensitive liberal utilitarian instincts – as barbaric to something less barbaric, but to a new mode of discipline and punishment and surveillance which is itself an incredible effect of the expansion of power – not of its contraction – across many areas of life… across many areas of life.
The, sort of, Spectacle of the Scaffold is over, but we still execute people. We just do it behind wall after wall of secrecy, you know… wall after wall of secrecy. They are still executed, but it just happens in a space where we – in principle – can’t look. Now I know that people have run for, say, the Governor of Texas and argued that we should put these things on TV, you know: “Hell, if we can execute ‘em, show it on TV”, and ah, you know, it didn’t work out as an idea and he lost the election. I think if he had sold it to the networks first and then tried it as a political idea… [crowd laughter] …he would have had something, but he didn’t try that.
Well the serious point being made here by Foucault is not that that old barbaric power of the past has been broken and liberal democracy has won everywhere – No… it’s that power has shifted, it has expanded in its intensity and precisely by becoming even more hidden, micrological, everyday in a certain way – seeping in every day – it has become, as it were, sort of, totalising; territorialising – if you like – more and more of our lives, in subtle but profound ways.
So I guess that I wanted to use that example in particular because now we begin to wonder about even Foucault’s analysis; if it isn’t a bit old fashioned and we are not in yet another space. Because Foucault is still – to my mind at least – somewhere on the borderline between a modern account of power and one that I would characterise as “post-modern”; or after the modern. And it’s going to be difficult for me to characterise that in spite of the title of these lectures – which is “Nietzsche and the Post-Modern Condition”. Because no-one yet knows what the post-modern condition is because it is not a condition we are in yet, it is a trajectory. As Nietzsche said of The Death of God “It is perhaps an event on its way”.
I wanted to use Foucault’s example… ah, the example of Foucault however to try to show you what genealogies do; how they reverse our perception. So in the case of the feudal period they show us the reversal that occurs on the scaffold, when all of a sudden the person you are tearing apart becomes the hero. And that’s if not surprising, sort of, you know, when you see through their courage and stamina they become the hero of the spectacle, the spectacle begins to disappear, we don’t… that guy can’t be the hero… you know.
Well similarly, the stories we tell ourselves about our institutions – now, our, sort of, institutions under modern liberal democratic societies… democratic societies… – the stories we tell ourselves; that they are based on legitimacy, consensus, and so on. And Foucault warns us that that may be the discourse within which we discuss, but what makes that discourse possible are the micrological powers of discipline, punishment and surveillance that undergird that liberal discourse.
And again, as in the case where Nietzsche quotes Saint Thomas, one could hardly quote a better source than Bentham – who was a social engineer and reformer in the tradition of, you know, many others we have encountered since – and you know, this panopticon device to show that the reversed look at this discourse of democracy and so on shows that beneath it are these micrological effects of power. And I would like to say about them that they are differential and highly complex. I mean, I don’t know if the Foucault example is enough, one might have to do more still to make this come alive. Let me see if I can find another way to do this.
Well let’s take for example a situation where it seems as though the only force that’s being recognised is the force of the better argument. Namely, a university setting. That’s one I am familiar with, so we’ll take that as an example. Argument within that setting seems to proceed free of power. Knowledge seems to be used in a way that is interest free. That’s the ideal of research, in a way; interest free knowledge. Knowledge free of the effects of power.
If Nietzsche is right about power; wherever there is knowledge, it will be an effect of power. That will not mean it’s not knowledge, folks! In other words, understanding that knowledge is an effect of certain power won’t mean that it isn’t what? Really knowledge – yes it will be – but it will be to see, as it were, the other side.
It will be a reversal; it will be to see that that knowledge effect is itself an effect of certain relations of power.
Now, in our case of the university, the institutional powers are quite subtle. In other words, it’s very rare that… especially at a university, and this is more common in high school where you can simply take unruly students and throw them out into the streets. In university you don’t get that opportunity quite so often; that’s really just an opportunity to take a student you don’t like and say “Get the hell out of here, don’t come back” But there are other ways, and they may seem childish, but sometimes power is childish.
Another way to discipline; one of my favourite, is grading [crowd laughter], and it starts very early in our lives. Our first system is highly complex and structured. If you want an account of structuralism, this is an interesting one. In kindergarten, the way we, sort of, discipline our kids… they do their rose and it’s really red and they stay in the lines they get a happy face, you know. If he gets a little out of the lines, they just, sort of… straight face. If they really just draw all over the thing and chaotic Nietzschean wildness: they get a sad face. They don’t turn in the work at all; they don’t get a face: no face.
And I noticed as you go throughout school that this same topography of discipline continues. In elite universities we still go “A”, and the fact that we substituted a happy face for that letter doesn’t mean the message is different. In other words, they have been… socialisation; power has already instructed that that “A” is a happy face. And you get an A, and you see a happy face: “A”; happy face. “B”, and guess what you get? “C”… and if you – for God’s sakes, in an elite university – if you flunk somebody, you won’t see their face. You may get a letter from their attorney, but you won’t see their face [crowd laughter], okay.
My point here is that the structural disciplinary way that that’s done – believe me if you are grading in the humanities, the difference between a brilliant paper on Plato and one that’s completely insane is not an easy distinction. If you think it is, you don’t teach that. I mean I admit that in maths courses, you know, there we can let a, sort of, traditional view to hold sway for a moment, but when you are grading a paper on Plato for God’s sakes or Shakespeare or Proust, it’s hard to know the difference between brilliant insight and a piece of garbled lunacy [crowd laughter]
And this is exactly – to return to my political moment – this is exactly the problem we have when we listen to many of our current official leaders speak. We don’t know whether this is really a piece of powerful political rhetoric or a garbled line from a David Lynch film. [crowd laughter]. You know, sometimes I expect to see one of the currently elected high executive officials just to walk around going… in the land they come from, the birds sing a pretty song, and stuff like that… weird David Lynch… hell, we don’t know, it might even be an act of political genius for at least one person I have in mind here to do something like that. You know, “to free him of his image” or whatever.
In any case, what I am after here is a topography, a very subtle form of power, because it looks as though my power to give that grade is my power. But what happens if I decide I am not going to play that game any more, and I am just going to give all my students “A”s that complete the work, and otherwise “F”. I am not going to do this gradation, this topography any more. I can’t. I tested that one empirically; they won’t let me do it. No, you have to have a spread. Now here is the interesting part about power today: they don’t tell you what the spread is exactly. Because micrologically, they are disappointed that you haven’t been, as it were, already conditioned to know that. So they are sort of disappointed in you that you didn’t realise all along that you needed that spread.
Just like if you opened a Macy’s that you happened to be the manager of and didn’t get that camera installed. Your supervisor would go “Well I thought you knew we always use cameras… You know, you are a pretty nice fella, but we always use them… We don’t want to interfere with our customers, no… But we always use these cameras, it’s for the good of the rest of the customers, because if there is a lot of shoplifting, the prices will go up” Of course, that would be an act of God, no human will actually raise them. That’s economics; no humans do it. They are sort of the only acts left of a dying God; economic acts.
But anyway, these forms of power that Nietzsche sets our sights on in the book “The Will to Power” shows power in quite a different light than normal political theory because these are situations within which power and knowledge and principle are intermingled. For example, when I earlier said there was you know, paradoxically – Nietzsche argues there is an immoral origin to morality – paradoxically there is… rational knowledge itself has its origins in relations of power which themselves – in my view – cannot be rationally defended. That is, their origin does not mean that what they produce – again, to make this point again so you don’t take a simple minded mistake out of here – that doesn’t mean it isn’t real knowledge. The universities and many other things; research institutes and all produce real knowledge; what we today call knowledge anyway. I call it information – I’ll return to that later – I don’t want to call it knowledge, I want to call it information. But the conditions under which they are produced are these subtle conditions of power. Grading is one example.
Grading is just one example; it’s one of my favourites though because its one of the times in life when you see what an incredible effect you can have by making a happy face. You could make someone happy by just… I mean someone is bound to say “Of course you do, because those grades depend upon what they do later in life in their jobs” Well that just feeds back into my earlier argument: of course, because the rest of your whole stinking life you are going to be looking for a happy face from someone, you know. Eight years in the law firm and you are looking at all the old lawyers that forgot all the law they knew twenty years ago, and you are waiting for one of those S.O.B’s or whatever to give you another happy face.
Well the challenge of Nietzsche – the sort of left Nietzsche that I want to evoke – is to at least be aware of these intersties of power. To at least be aware of them, and be willing to challenge their boundaries, because it is not a pretty life to always be in search of a happy face, and it is not for your own good.
For God’s sakes, remember when your father… my father used to spank me and the first thing he would tell me is the same thing they would tell me at school “I am going to do this for your own good” And I always wanted to say “Well damnit, why don’t you spank yourself then, because you could spare me the favour. If its for good, do it to you, I love you dad, and if its for good, do it to yourself because we want you to have the good” [crowd laughter] “Don’t do it for my own good, don’t do me any favours here”, “Oh well we don’t think you’ll work out with our firm; it’s for your own good”… “Oh well thanks anyway, but I’ll sacrifice for you” [crowd laughter] you know…
Modern power presents itself as what I would like to call – and I mean this especially where its least obvious – we know what modern power has looked like in the East Bloc and in the Soviet Union and it was no surprise to anyone they were totalitarian. What I would like for us to recognise is that we are totalitarians as well. It’s a horrible… but until we see it we won’t have a chance to be really radically democratic, ever. I mean, okay, a little biblical scholarship here “Easy to find the mote in your brother’s eye, difficult to see to one in your own”… very difficult. So this account of power reminds us that the totalitarian is not “the other”, sometimes we meet the enemy and it’s us.