“Was not their mistake once more bred of the life of slavery that they had been living?—a life which was always looking upon everything, except mankind, animate and inanimate—‘nature,’ as people used to call it—as one thing, and mankind as another, it was natural to people thinking in this way, that they should try to make ‘nature’ their slave, since they thought ‘nature’ was something outside them” — William Morris

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Where Is the Anti-Nietzsche?

Major inspiration for my ecology projects came from Malcolm Bull's essay “Where Is the Anti-Nietzsche?” which you will find in a New Left Review for 2000 (May–June).

Bull argues brilliantly that all attempts to climb over or reverse Nietzsche result in falling into his trap, since you are trying to master him.

What is required instead is an aikido-like move in which we crawl out weakly and lamely from underneath Nietzsche, like Danny in the Shining or small rodents surviving the cataclysm that wiped out the dinosaurs. Stop trying to win.

Bull relates this strategic weakness to ecology and identification with other lifeforms. I argue that the ecological age we are now in is an age of weakness, lameness and hypocrisy. And I mean those very precisely and positively.

Anti-Nietzscheanism is, in short, ecological awareness. It's a genius argument and it's not surprising that he liked The Ecological Thought. I have yet to read his book based on the essay, which he sent me subsequently, but I'm about to.


Caspar Henderson said...


"I beseech you, my brothers, remain faithful to the earth, and do not believe those who speak to you of otherworldly hopes! Poison-mixers are they, whether they know it or not. Despisers of life are they, decaying and poisoned themselves, of whom the earth is weary: so let them go.
Once the sin against God was the greatest sin; but God died, and these sinners died with him. To sin against the earth is now the most dreadful thing, and to esteem the entrails of the unknowable higher than the meaning of the earth..."

From 'Thus Spake Zarathustra'

Al Scandar said...


I read this blog from time to time, and have gone through parts of Timothy's books, but I'm not sure I get either of you ;)

It seems to me that Danny and the rodents are quite nietzschean themselves. They struggled to survive and this struggle made them better - escape for danny, evolution for the rodents. Except the rodents were not aware and could not reason about the whole picture, but perhaps neither was danny, or any of us.

Even Aikido is still about overcoming conflict. Aikido teaches wider awareness of inner and outer reality to recognize paths of conflict resolution other than direct opposition and mutual annihilation. That is quite nietzschean, the superman is clark kent.

On the other hand, I'm not sure Nietzsche condemning sins against the Earth in Zarathustra - thought it was excellent that Caspar mentioned it - is ecological awareness in the sense Timothy develops, which I understand to be about realizing the reality of things removed from our daily life (global warming) and the fiction of things that seem present in our every day (nature).

But then, wasn't Nietzsche something just like that, only for his own time? God is a fantasy, look down to Earth to find what matters.

Isn't there a parallel between philosophy without god and ecology without nature?

And so, is the issue of avoiding Nietzsche - as you can't counter him - indeed useful for ecological conversation? You can be ecologically aware and Nietzschean, so far as you intend to apply your awareness to overcome some struggle - be it by opposition or harmony. It then seems to me that most ecologically aware people are more Nietzscheans than te average person, who sometimes won't even realize there is a struggle.

But maybe I'm getting this all wrong ;)

Finally, just to expand on my perspective, I feel that the only way to avoid Nietzsche is to fully embrace no-consequence, which is simply not interesting to most people and, it seems to me, orthogonal to ecological awareness. To make the decision of fighting or not fighting, and how to fight, without will. To do it only because you can, and do it with complete detachment. Perhaps do it for the lulz. To manifest a selfless awareness of all things and be indifferent to your own perceived existence. Then nietzsche and god are both dead.

Although here and there we see a glimpse of this selflessness in discussions of ecological awareness, they are not structural, are mostly superficial, and as far as I can tell can be completely stripped off.

Ok, far too long already! :P



Timothy Morton said...

I'm not sure I completely accept your definition of aikido Al. Nevertheless, at this level, Nietzscheanism becomes trivial and thus dissolves.

Al Scandar said...

I understand what you mean by N becomes trivial in my overstated description. I'm still not sure I understand how ecological awareness would be anti-N.

Unfortunately I do not have access to the text you comment on, and failed to find it elsewhere on the net. Walled journals piss me off.

(Also, I was playing a bit of devil's advocate there with Aikido, I agree there is more to be found in it!)

Thanks for your reply :)