Nietzsche and the Postmodern Condition (1991)
Rick Roderick, Ph. D.

Lecture One: Nietzsche as Myth and Mythmaker

  1. Things to know about Nietzsche
    1. The is a difference between Nietzsche’s text and his life, which was relatively uneventful.
    2. Nietzsche was not gay, and had maybe one sexual encounter ever.
    3. Nietzsche is the last important thinker of the 19th century.
  2. The Nietzsche Biography: (1844-1900)
    1. Nietzsche was born in Germany.
    2. He had a brief friendship with Wagner.
    3. He was raised by his mother.
    4. Nietzsche was a sickly person throughout his life.
    5. Nietzsche went mad ten years before his death.
  3. There are several sets of paradoxes that concern Nietzsche as myth and mythmaker
    1. The first set is in his writings. For example, Nietzsche suggests that morality has an "immoral" origin.
    2. The second set of paradoxes in generated by his writing, specifically, the impossibility of constructing the right interpretation of any text, including Nietzsche’s.
      1. Interpretation takes place in all realms of society.
      2. The are stakes in interpretation.
      3. Nietzsche finds interpretations multiple and contestable.
      4. Nietzsche suggest that methodological languages substantiate institutional powers.
    3. The third paradox belongs to anyone who tries to present the text. The text can lose power by being trivialized in its presentation
  4. Myth is an important topic in Nietzsche’s writings.
    1. Nietzsche uses myth in writing.
    2. Nietzsche develops a relationship between myth and modernity (capitalism) which is involved in the dialectic of enlightenment.
    3. Nietzsche is an important figure in the post-modern condition.
  5. The importance of Nietzsche
    1. Nietzsche is a topic of conversation, and is part of culture.
    2. There are debates over interpretations of Nietzsche.
    3. "Nietzsche’s return" in the 60’s and late 80’s was exhilarating and humorous.

Lecture Two: Nietzsche on Truth and Lie

  1. Nietzsche was accused of being a Relativist.
    1. His view of the function of truth and lie was mislabeled as perspectivism, which no one really believes in.
    2. Nietzsche was opposed to the dogmatism inherent in the Western theoretical tradition.
    3. Nietzsche believed that binding everyone to one view is bad, and that all views are not equally good or interesting.
    4. It’s consistent to believe in something passionately, and also to believe that this belief may be wrong.
    5. Nietzsche respected Socrates, but Socrates wanted an answer to the question, "What is X?" Any answer would be dogmatic.
    6. This dogmatic tradition is imperialistic and breeds conformity.
  2. The standard philosophical refutation of relativism:
    1. The relativist can’t state a position – because this implies "truth" which is what they’re trying to refute.
    2. This is a self-referencial paradox.
  3. The current theory of truth is redundant and deflationary: "Truth is what is the case."
  4. Nietzsche’s theory of truth comes from "On Truth and Lie".
    1. "In short, it’s a sum of human relations which has been enhanced, transposed, and embellished poetically and rhetorically, and which after long use seem firm, canonical, and obligatory to a people"
    2. "Truths are illusions" about which one has forgotten that is what they are.
    3. Truth is "mutually agreed upon fictions".
    4. The statement that "the U.S. is a democracy" is such a truth.
    5. Important words such as truth can get worn out after much use.
  5. Nietzsche’s text is filled with virulent sexism.
    1. Nietzsche asked – what if truth turned out to be a woman?
    2. What if gossip and not philosophy has held the world together?
  6. Nietzsche denied that facts can determine our interpretations.
    1. For example, creationists won’t be persuaded by bare facts because interpretations determine what is fact.
    2. Certain interpretations are overused and lose their usefulness.
    3. "Human beings are in love with what vanishes."

Lecture Three: Nietzsche as Master of Suspicion and Immoralist

  1. Nietzsche was a master of suspicion.
    1. Nietzsche writes in various styles such as fragments and aphorism making it hard to know what to interpret.
    2. What is style in writing? It’s a writer finding his/her voice.
    3. Nietzsche’s styles open the problem of interpretation
      1. If there is style, there must be more than one.
      2. Style is only style to the extent to which we can differentiate it from another style.
  2. The method of Nietzsche’s genealogy.
    1. A genealogy attempts to uncover the formations of an entire discursive practice.
    2. Genealogy attempts a reversal of perspective.
    3. It is distinguished from Marxism and other kinds of history writings because it doesn’t look for a singular subject or collective subjects. Instead it looks for micrological power (force to force).
    4. The truth of such accounts are the accuracy of their interpretations as a kind of choice one has made.
  3. Nietzsche’s argument on the genealogy of morals:
    1. Nietzsche want’s to trace the origins of our values.
    2. The procedure he follows makes use of modes forms psychological and historical reasoning, and studying the texts that we’ve structured out understanding of "whole bodies" on.
    3. the schema: Our morality which grew out of religion, (Christianity).
    4. Nietzsche sees civilization headed toward a dead-end.
    5. In The Genealogy of Morals, these is an invidious binary in the text: master and slave morality. He identifies master morality with Greek ideals and slave morality with Christian.
  4. Nietzsche’s background as a philologist warned him that words underwent semantic shifts between the Greek and Christian periods.
    1. The Greek word for excellence is translated as virtue or piety in the Christian period.
    2. Odysseus was honored in Greek society. He was well rounded and had "active powers". Nietzsche called these noble values.
    3. Nietzsche argues that the transformation of these values was life denying.
    4. Nietzsche didn’t think this was entirely negative because he thought it made the human race more subtle and devious.

Lecture Four: The Death of God

  1. Nietzsche looks to see what type of person makes particular arguments or evaluations.
  2. Greek values are noble but naive.
    1. Active force prevails over reactive forces (things that stand over the human will).
    2. The active type is noted for its ability to forget.
      1. "Mirror historicism" involves people who wander idly through relics of the past.
      2. Memory is needed in Christianity for things like the redemption story.
  3. In Christian morality, reactive forces prevail over the active ones.
    1. Principles stand in the way of what you want.
    2. Christian achievements have always had some opposite perverse nature.
    3. The denial of power eroticizes the world in a brand new way.
    4. Sin is what Nietzsche thought was interesting about Christianity.
    5. The weak revenged themselves on the strong..
    6. In the Bible, the Devil introduces interpretation.
    7. Nietzsche does not deny the power of Christianity.
    8. Reactive forces endanger the species.
    9. Resentment and guilt are fundamental to the substructure of Christian discourse.
  4. The spectre of nihilism:
    1. The aesthetic ideal expresses a will to nothingness (in the decadent period of Christianity).
    2. The problem in Christianity is not finding believers, but finding real people.
  5. Nietzsche’s parable of the death of God:
    1. The parable talks about the drying up of a horizon of meaning and of a while form of human life.
    2. The parable from "The Gay Science" ("The Madmen") claims that we are responsible for God’s death.
    3. How shall we comfort ourselves now?
    4. What are churches if not the tombs of God?

Lecture Five: The Eternal Recurrence

  1. Nietzsche invested himself as a character who would stand out above the text – an act of self creation.
  2. There is a sociological dimension to the "death of God" parable.
    1. The death of God is a metaphor that signals something that’s perhaps still on it’s way. (It has yet to be understood in full.)
    2. Society has changed in such a way that it is difficult to be religious. (Weber called this the disenchantment of the world.)
  3. Nietzsche is known as the teacher of the eternal recurrence.
    1. He’s reluctant to give didactic answers because he’s too decadent (born between two worlds).
    2. Eternal recurrence is a challenge to self creation.
    3. Nietzsche asks a horrifying question: what if everything that occurred – occurred again – just as it happened before?
    4. Ate you leading the kind of life that you’d be willing to live over again and again?
    5. The challenge is to live an interesting life.
    6. Nietzsche has more in mind than just changing jobs.
    7. He uses a myth because of his rejection of dogmatic philosophy. The burden is on the reader.
    8. Modernists are perplexed, frightened, and fascinated by death.
    9. The threat of an apocalypse is fascinating to people because it is a communal experience.
    10. Nietzsche was acutely, and perhaps pathologically aware of his own self creation.
    11. Freud’s biographer said that Freud said that Nietzsche knew more about himself than any man who ever lived or was likely to live.
    12. Nietzsche loved fate. It’s a threat and an opportunity.

Lecture Six: The Will to Power

  1. A myth about Nietzsche is that his work is related to Fascism
    1. This is because his texts have been used by socialist organizations
    2. Nietzsche viewed himself as a "good European" rather than a "good German".
    3. Nietzsche scorned German nationalism.
    4. Many interesting tex have risks.
    5. The return of Nietzsche in the 60’s and his re-return in the 80’s and 90’s, have been interpreted as anarchist and left-wing.
    6. Nietzsche’s text allows for multiple political uses.
  2. "The Will to Power" is the name of a text was compiled by Nietzsche’s sister.
    1. Nietzsche’s view of power is not as simple as the domination of one person over another. This is because there is no essential self, only multiple personas that have the coherence of a character.
    2. Selves aren’t simple, and neither is power.
    3. Power is applied vertically. We internalize relations of power within ourselves (micrological power).
    4. A good conscience and fairness are structured by power.
    5. For Nietzsche, power is relational, a complex relational set of intervening and interacting effects.
  3. Foucault’s "Discipline and Punish" shows us the politics of reading Nietzsche.
    1. Foucault does a genealogy of forms of punishment – how they changed from the feudal to the modern period.
    2. "The Spectacle of the Scaffold" details an execution and the conditions of possibility for those practices.
    3. A condition of reversal occurs when the victim becomes the local point and wins sympathy of the crowd.
    4. Bentham. the utilitarian, designed the "panoptical" which was more of a principle than a building.
      1. There was surveillance power – you can be seen, but you can’t see them.
      2. It is a new mode of discipline which signifies the expansion of power across many aspects of life.
    5. Another modern day reversal is occurring in the university. Knowledge seems free of power, but according to Nietzsche, where there is knowledge, there are the effects of power.

Lecture Seven: Nietzsche as Artist

  1. Nietzsche in comparison to other great thinkers
    1. Nietzsche has been praised as a forerunner of Psychoanalysis
    2. For Kierkegaard, the search for an authentic self is doomed to fail.
      1. He says that the self is a despairing relation.
      2. Nietzsche puts a positive twist on this view saying that the self is a "risky" relation to itself.
  2. An uninterpretable text of Nietzsche’s is "Thus Spoke Zarathustra".
    1. This contains a parody of the Bible. There is a "sermon on the mount" given for cows.
    2. The text is meant to enact the gay science.
    3. It is self-indulgent and especially appealing to adolescents, as is much of Nietzsche’s work.
    4. You are meant to have a good time with the text and to be challenged by it to try to remember your adolescence.
    5. Mass media has eliminated the necessity for religion.
    6. Intoxication has always been an important aspect of culture.
    7. Nihilism is not a strong enough name for the threat faced by human subjectivity and lived experience in the terrain of our culture.
  3. War is the last indication of reality, but now even that may not be true.
    1. The gulf war can be considered a virtual non-reality.
    2. Our culture has as excess of the visual.

Lecture Eight: Nietzsche’s Progeny

  1. Nietzsche says there are no last interpretations of desperate moments, which makes in difficult to conclude.
    1. Nietzsche had no children, so why the term "progeny"?
    2. Nietzsche’s texts were written to fail. If they are successful no any way it is
  2. The postmodern condition continued:
    1. The saturation of modes of information, surveillance, and control are at a level of such intensity that they qualitatively change the nature of our experience.
    2. In the 19th century, massive forms of production caused by manual labor to be replaced with mechanical labor.
    3. In the mid to late 20th century, there was a switch from technology that replaces manual labor with technology that replaces mental/intellectual labor and even human experience.
      1. We value sports because with the decrease in manual labor, it is a way to vicariously enjoy the pleasure of the body.
      2. Everything that was directly lived has now been reduced to an image or representation.
    4. "Nihilism technologically realized": people born into a culture where an apocalypse is technologically possible are different from Nietzsche’s time when nihilism was a matter of the drying up of subjectivity and belief formation. Nietzsche’s hope was to create new ones.
      1. Nietzsche did not realize that nihilism would become technologically possible.
      2. Apocalypse is a utopian ideal. We are much more likely to trod endlessly, solving technical adjustments.
    5. "Virtual reality suits" provide a prepackaged experience. Commodities are no longer just things of use – they’ve become part of what we are.
  3. Russell described "The growth of unreason in the 19th century". If there is no intellectual difference between sanity and insanity, reason and unreason, truth and falsity – then the lunatic who believes he’s a poached egg should be condemned only because he’s in the minority.
  4. A final thought: fight to feel and live anything.

SUGGESTED READING TO ACCOMPANY Nietzsche and the Postmodern Condition
"The Portable Nietzsche." -The classic collection of
Nietzsche’s works in English (includes the full text of "Twilight of the Idols", "The Antichrist", "Nietzsche Contra Wagner", and "Thus Spoke Zarathustra") edited by Walter Kaufmann. This is an excellent volume to begin your reading of Nietzsche.
"On the Genealogy of Morals" -Nietzsche’s most systematic work develops a powerful criticism of moral discourse. The book offers one of Nietzsche’s few sustained philosophical arguments.
"The Will To Power" – This edited collection of Nietzsche’s notes provides a criticism of philosophy in general and a fascinating account of power that has been extremely influential in current debates on politics and modernity.
"The Use and Abuse of History" – This short work is an excellent polemic against "historicism" which continues to challenge us today as an anticipation of out "history-less" postmodern condition.

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