Queering Revolution

  • C. Heike Schotten


In the Genealogy, Nietzsche writes of the artist that “if he were it, he would not represent, conceive, and express it: a Homer would not have created an Achilles nor Goethe a Faust if Homer had been an Achilles or Goethe a Faust.”1 The unspoken, yet implied, addition to this obviously unfulfilled triumvirate is, of course, Nietzsche himself: did Nietzsche create a Zarathustra because he could not be a Zarathustra? A tempting interpretation, especially given Nietzsche’s boundless praise of this figure and his warning in Ecce Homo that “I am one thing, my writings are another matter.”2 Yet Nietzsche also says disparagingly of artists in the very next aphorism that they are always only the “valets of some morality, philosophy, or religion.” Artists lack the ability to “stand apart; standing alone is contrary to their deepest instincts.”3 By contrast, real creators— philosophers—demand solitude. Unlike artists, whom Nietzsche says always require some “established authority.”4 for direction, philosopher-creators must determine their own why and how, their own goal and virtue: “A virtue must be our own invention, our most necessary self-expression and self-defense: any other kind of virtue is merely a danger.”5 To be able to be such a creator demands self-ostracism from the crowd of common ideas and morality, which have nothing but suspicion and contempt for the hermit.


Christian Morality Loving Life Death Drive Eternal Recurrence Revolutionary Politics 
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  1. 12.
    I also credited Daniel W. Conway for this insight, which he compellingly demonstrates in Nietzsche’s Dangerous Game: Philosophy in the Twilight of the Idols (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 13.
    I therefore do not accept the argument of Maudemarie Clark and others who claim that Nietzsche comes to believe in the existence of a kind of empirical reality that can be accessed and revealed through science in the 1888 writings (Maudemarie Clark, Nietzsche on Truth and Philosophy [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990]). Rather, I see this as a rhetorical strategy to induce a revolution that does not conclude with a mere privileging of the body, but also seeks ultimately to undermine that very privileging.Google Scholar
  3. 17.
    As Judith Butler has argued, “to problernatize the matter of bodies may entail a loss of epistemological certainty, but loss of certainty is not the same thing as political nihilism. On the contrary, such a loss may well indicate a significant and promising shift in political thinking.” Judith Butler, Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “Sex” (New York: Routledge, 1993), 30).Google Scholar
  4. 18.
    See, for example, Conway, Nietzsche’s Dangerous Game; Jacques Derrida, The Ear of the Other, ed. Christie McDonald, trans. Peggy Kamuf (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1985);Google Scholar
  5. and Kelly Oliver, Womanizing Nietzsche: Philosophy’s Relation to the “Feminine” (New York: Routledge, 1995).Google Scholar
  6. 19.
    This is the difficulty of offering a feminist reading of Nietzsche while still remaining a scholar of Nietzsche, and goes some way toward accounting for the frustrating pattern in Nietzsche scholarship (discussed in Chapter 4, note 16) that preserves Nietzsche’s status as a great philosopher at the expense of either ignoring or excusing his misogyny. There is the additional difficulty that feminist analysis is still not considered sufficiently “objective,” an unspoken presumption that works to confine feminist readings of philosophy either to rationalizations of misogyny or explorations of the multivalent and endlessly shifting permutations of “woman” in Nietzsche’s texts. However, simply focusing on gender (much less “woman”) does not make a reading feminist. Indeed, I suspect that the fear of castration lurks here as well, reproduced under the normative guise of “good scholarship,” and rebounding back onto feminist analysis by policing the boundaries of what constitutes its appropriate focus and critical content. It is no surprise, then, that feminist critics might be on their guard. Thus, in her essay in Feminist Interpretations of Nietzsche, Kathleen Higgins encourages feminists not to lose their senses of humor when encountering Nietzsche’s “jokes” about women, insisting without a hint of irony that in doing so she is not rehabilitating that very stereotype. Kathleen Higgins, “Gender in The Gay Science,” in Feminist Interpretations of Plato, ed. Kelly Oliver and Marilyn Pearsall (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1998), 150. Similarly, Maudemarie Clark argues in her essay in Feminist Interpretations that the ultimate issue for Nietzsche is “whether women really want enlightenment about themselves, whether we can will it.”Google Scholar
  7. Maudemarie Clark, “Nietzsche’s Misogyny,” in Feminist Interpretations of Nietzsche, ed. Kelly Oliver and Marilyn Pearsall (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1998), 197. Thus accepting a misogynist premise in Nietzsche, Clark concludes by arguing that women should take Nietzsche at his word on this count: “feminists interested in this possibility could do worse than to look both seriously and with a sense of humor at Nietzsche’s attempt to turn resentment into laughter in Beyond Good and Evil VII.” But as Kelly Oliver rightfully points out, “Nietzsche’s woman reader must laugh or she will feel wounded by his texts.”Google Scholar
  8. Kelly Oliver, Womanizing Nietzsche: Philosophy’s Relation to the “Feminine” (New York: Routledge, 1995), 24, emphasis added. So, too, if she is to be considered a “good scholar”?Google Scholar
  9. 31.
    Some commentators, recognizing the constitutive contradictions at the center of Nietz-sche’s thought, have proposed reading Nietzsche “against” himself. Lawrence Hatab, for example, seeks to do this in order to produce a democratic politics that need not privilege equality as its centerpiece, a project more invested in staking out a theory of democracy and how Nietzsche can serve it, than in Nietzsche interpretation per se. Lawrence Hatab, A Nietzschean Defense of Democracy: An Experiment in Postmodern Politics (Chicago: Open Court Books, 1995). Conway deploys this strategy in a slightly different manner in Nietz-sche’s Dangerous Game, brilliantly separating out the diagnostic Nietzsche from the décadent Nietzsche in order to deploy former against the latter, thereby revealing the unwitting décadent confession contained within Nietzsche’s philosophy. See, especially, chapters 1 and 5;Google Scholar
  10. cf. also Daniel W. Conway, “Nietzsche Contra Nietzsche: The Deconstruction of Zarathustra,” in Nietzsche as Postmodernist: Essays Pro and Contra, ed. Clayton Koelb (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1990). My own reading of Nietzsche’s contradictions obviously owes much to Conway’s methodological innovations. However, Conway reads Nietzsche’s devolution of his task to others as a “dangerous game” that he ultimately fails to play successfully, arguing that Nietzsche’s “signature teachings, which he at one time hoped might catalyze a rebirth of tragic culture in Europe, have become bargaining chips in a pathetic scheme to broker the discipleship of his decrepit readers” (170). While nothing disproves Conway’s masterful interpretation here, he is more persuaded than I by Nietzsche’s account of his own and his readers’ deficiencies. In my view, the overwrought grandiosity of Nietzsche’s proclamations of décadence are themselves meaningful as symptoms: Nietzsche’s diagnoses of modernity’s horror are better read as projections of his own “disease,” in particular when it comes to sexuality and gender, the place where he becomes most essentialist and thus most in need of redemption. But this contradictory display of sickness gives us due reason to reject Nietzsche’s redemptive immoderacy, thereby only committing us only more firmly to his revolutionary endeavor. Thus, I agree that Nietzsche seeks readers who will take up his project in unexpected ways, producing “a hybrid production, a bastard son born to him and his readers.” Conway, Nietzsche’s Dangerous Game, 155. But I think Nietzsche’s self-revelation successfully authorizes that production, a project that is even more illegitimate than Conway may have believed insofar as it is no longer necessarily a “son.”Google Scholar
  11. 66.
    See, for example, Luc Ferry and Alain Renault’s Why We Are Not Nietzscheans, trans. Robert de Loaiza (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997);Google Scholar
  12. Fredrick Appel, Nietzsche Contra Democracy (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1988);Google Scholar
  13. Geoff Waite, Nietzsche’s Corps/E: Aesthetics, Politics, Prophecy, or, the Spectacular Technoculture ofEveryday Life (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1996);Google Scholar
  14. and, to some extent, Bernard Yack, The Longing for Total Revolution: Philosophic Sources of Social Discontent from Rousseau to Marx and Nietzsche (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1986). In Alan Schrift’s commentary on reactionary readers’ attempts to reify Nietzsche as an incontestable racist (in a volume that seems intended as a clear response to Why We Are Not Nietzscheans), Schrift suggests that the best response to such an interpretation is not necessarily step-by-step refutation, but rather effective demonstration of the kinds of progressive political projects that are possible through engagement with a dangerous thinker like Nietzsche.Google Scholar
  15. Alan Schrift, “Nietzsche’s Contest: Nietzsche and the Culture Wars,” in Why Nietzsche Still? Reflections on Drama, Culture, and Politics, ed. Alan Schrift (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000). This section is one attempt to make good on Schrift’s suggestion.Google Scholar
  16. 77.
    Insofar as some feminists argue that this hierarchy is constitutive of sexuality as well— namely, that domination and subordination are essential to sexual desire and definitive of sexual activity—then an overthrow of gender hierarchy would necessarily also demand a revaluation of sexuality and sexual desire. As Catharine MacKinnon notes, “maybe feminists are considered castrating because equality is not sexy.” Catharine MacKinnon, Toward a Feminist Theory of the State (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1989), 145.Google Scholar
  17. 78.
    In Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (New York: Routledge, 1990). Itself an important liberatory tool, the sex/gender distinction differentiates between sex, considered to consist of biological aspects of the body like genitals, hormones, chromosomes, gonads, body fat and hair distribution, et cetera, and gender, the social roles, qualities, and characteristics contained in and entailed by the words “man” and “woman.” Gayle Rubin is often credited with its innovation; see her “The Traffic in Women: Notes on the ‘Political Economy’ of Sex,” in Toward an Anthropology of Women, ed. Rayna Reiter (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1975);Google Scholar
  18. cf. Donna Haraway, “‘Gender’ for a Marxist Dictionary: the Sexual Politics of a Word,” in Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (New York: Routledge, 1991).Google Scholar
  19. 82.
    Frances Nesbitt Oppel acknowledges Nietzsche’s role in inaugurating precisely such radical interrogation of sex and gender; see her Nietzsche on Gender: Beyond Man and Woman (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2005). On the issue of subjectivity in particular, Butler acknowledges Nietzsche’s importance, citing his authorizing insistence in the Genealogy that there is no being behind doing, no doer behind the deed (Gender Trouble, 25). Cf. Judith Butler, Excitable Speech: A Politics ofthe Performative (New York: Routledge, 1997), 45–46.Google Scholar
  20. 87.
    As Socrates notes in the Republic, the possibility of women guardians has to be admitted insofar as men and women “differ in this alone, that the female bears and the male mounts.” Plato, Republic, trans. Allan Bloom (New York: Basic Books, 1968), 454e.Google Scholar
  21. 93.
    As transsexual woman Julia Serano notes in a revolutionary tone, “so it’s no wonder that most people assume that I must be mentally ill, because in this culture, wanting to be a woman is something most people find literally unimaginable. And when I do have SRS [sex reassignment surgery], my surgically constructed genitals will no doubt be seen by some to be an abomination or a blasphemy. Because my cunt will be the ultimate question mark, asking, How powerful can the penis really be if a sane and smart person like me decides she can do without it? And if the world supposedly revolves around the penis, then my SRS will knock it off its axis. And phallic symbols will come crashing down like nothing more than a house of cards.” Julia Serano, Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity (Emeryville, CA: Seal Press, 2007), 231.Google Scholar
  22. 98.
    Cf. the Nietzschean resonances in Donna Haraway’s understanding of “situated knowledges” as embodied perspectives in her critique of scientific objectivity. Donna Haraway, “Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective,” in Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (New York: Routledge, 1991). Nietzsche, of course, claims this observer’s neutrality for himself, attributing his objectivity to his depth of experience with both sickness and health: “This dual descent, as it were, both from the highest and the lowest run on the ladder of life, at the same time a décadent and a beginning—this, if anything, explains that neutrality, that freedom from all partiality in relation to the total problem of life, that perhaps distinguishes me” (EH “Wise” §1).Google Scholar
  23. 99.
    See, for example, the volumes Feminism/Postmodernism, ed. Linda Nicholson (New York: Routledge, 1990); Feminist Politics: Identity, Diference, and Agency, ed. Deborah Orr et al. (New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 2007); and Radically Speaking, ed. Diane Bell and Renate Klein (North Melbourne, Australia: Spinifex, 1996), especially sections 2 and 3. See also Jan Rehmann, “Deconstructing Postmodernist Neo-Nietzscheanism,” Situations: Project of the Radical Imagination 2, no. 1 (2007); Rosemary Hennessy, Profit and Pleasure: Sexual Identities in Late Capitalism (New York: Routledge, 2000);Google Scholar
  24. Suzanne Danuta Walters, “From Here to Queer: Radical Feminism, Postmodernism, and the Lesbian Menace (Or, Why Can’t a Woman Be More Like a Fag?),” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 21, no. 4 (Summer 1996): 830–69.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. 100.
    Raising this critique to the level of righteous and resentful indictment, Martha Nussbaum accuses Butler of a “hip quietism” that colludes with “evil.” Martha Nussbaum, “The Professor of Parody,” The New Republic, February 22, 1999, 220(8):37–45.Google Scholar
  26. 102.
    Pauline Park, “GenderPAC, the Transgender Rights Movement, and the Perils of a Post-Identity Politics Paradigm,” The Georgetown Journal of Gender and the Law 4 (2003):747.Google Scholar
  27. 103.
    For a persuasive defense of this view, see Alan Schrift, Nietzsche’s French Legacy: A Genealogy of Poststructuralism (New York: Routledge, 1995).Google Scholar
  28. 104.
    Ct. Hannah Arendt, On Revolution (New York: Penguin, 2006).Google Scholar
  29. 105.
    Wendy Brown claims this explicitly with regard to feminism, when she writes that “post-structuralist insights were the final blow to the project of transforming, emancipating, or eliminating gender in a revolutionary mode.” Wendy Brown, “Feminism Unbound: Revolution, Mourning, Politics,” in Edgework: Critical Essays on Knowledge and Politics (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005), 111, emphasis in original. Foucault’s meth-odological proscriptions regarding the study of configurations of power-knowledge have also been taken to discount the possibility of revolutionary breaks or transformations; as he himself notes, “there is no single locus of great Refusal, no soul of revolt, source of all rebellions, or pure law of the revolutionary. Instead there is a plurality of resistances, each of them a special case.” Foucault, History of Sexuality, 95–96.Google Scholar
  30. 107.
    Brown illustrates the tendency of identity politics to cling to injury as the primary source of meaning and comfort (and thereby rendering it a slave morality consumed by ressentiment). Wendy Brown, “Wounded Attachments,” in States of Injury: Power and Freedom in Late Modernity (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995).Google Scholar
  31. 108.
    Brown, “Feminism Unbound,” 113–14, emphasis added. Note that my analysis differs from Brown’s insofar as I do not read Marx as offering a Communist future in order to redeem a corrupt past. I do not see Marx solely as an Enlightenment thinker who invests too much hope in the redemptive capacities of reason and human power to rectify the past’s mistakes. Rather, I think Marx follows through on the elimination of origins already begun in Rousseau’s Second Discourse, where the historicization of a state of nature which Rousseau himself admits is likely irretrievable, if not an outright fiction, makes possible the elimination of the need for origins altogether. Indeed, Marx insists that he will not begin in any fictitious “primordial state” but rather with the empirical premises of productive activity. Karl Marx, “Estranged Labor,” Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, ed. and trans. Martin Milligan (Mineola, NY: Dover, 2007), 68. Thus, in rendering history the history of class struggle, Marx renders the origin of that struggle irrelevant, if not ideological. Yet Marx may retain a revolutionary or utopic future promise. My aim in this part of the chapter is to make headway in the project of thinking revolution not simply without a past, as Marx does, but without a future as well.Google Scholar
  32. 109.
    Lee Edelman, No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2004). For a denser and complementary (if less irreverent and polemical) theorization of queer futurelessness,CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. see Shannon Winnubst, Queering Freedom (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2006).Google Scholar
  34. 110.
    Which Tavia Nyong’o notes may be a kind of nostalgia on Edelman’s part for a political moment already past, a moment when “homosexuality” did indeed pose an ominous and spectral threat to the social order. Tavia Nyong’o, “Do You Want Queer Theory (or Do You Want the Truth)? Intersections of Punk and Queer in the 1970s,” Radical History Review 100 (Winter 2008), 115.Google Scholar
  35. 111.
    Elsewhere, Edelman concedes this implication with regard to time itself, arguing that the constant imperative to turn time into history “makes all subjects queer,” insofar as “we aren’t, in fact, subjects of history constrained by the death-in-life of futurism and its illusion of productivity … The universality proclaimed by queerness lies in identifying the subject with just this repetitive performance of a death drive, with what’s, quite literally, unbecoming.” Lee Edelman, “Theorizing Queer Temporalities: A Roundtable Discussion,” GLQ 13, no. 2–3 (2007), 181.Google Scholar
  36. 112.
    Cathy Cohen, “Punks, Bull-Daggers, and Welfare Queens: The Radical Potential of Queer Politics?” in Black Queer Studies: A Critical Anthology (Durham: Duke University Press, 2005).Google Scholar
  37. 113.
    Jasbir Puar, Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2007).CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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© C. Heike Schotten 2009

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