Nietzsche, Artaud, and tragic politics

Nietzsche, Artaud, and tragic politics

Baker, Geoffrey

Nietzsche, Artaud, and Tragic Politics1

In countries under the rule of fear, the theatre is the form the dictators watch closely and dread the most.

-Peter Brook, The Open Door

The Right, unfortunately, is practically ignored here, although the theater can surely be geared to reactionary purposes as well.

-Reinhold Grimm, “Dionysus and Socrates”

IN HIS BOOK ON WHAT he terms “Nietzsche’s Tragic Regime” Thomas Heilke contextualizes anecdotally the inception of Nietzsche’s The Birth of Trazedy (Die Geburt der Tragodie, 1872), positing that “The critical experience that showed him the need for aesthetic horizons and induced him to create them appears to have been the rumored burning of the Louvre in 1870” (110).2 In the “Attempt at a Self-Criticism” (“Versuch einer Selbstkritik”) that accompanied a later edition of his essay in 1886, Nietzsche situates his first work in “the exciting time of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870/71. As the thunder of the Battle of Worth was rolling over Europe, the muser and riddle-friend who was to be the father of this book sat somewhere in an Alpine nook, very bemused and beriddled, hence very concerned and yet unconcerned, and wrote down his thoughts on the Greeks [die aufregende Zeit des deutsch-franzosischen Krieges von 1870/71. Wahrend die Donner der Schlacht von Worth uber Europa weggiengen, sass der Grubler and Rathselfreund, dem die Vaterschaft dieses Buches zu Theil ward, irgendwo in einem Winkel der Alpen, sehr vergruibelt and verrathselt, folglich sehr bekummert und unbekummert zugleich, and schrieb seine Gedanken fiber die Griechen nieder]” (17/1:11).3 The other thinker on whom this paper will focus, Antonin Artaud, similarly commences his The Theater and Its Double (Le Theatre et son double, 1938) with an appeal to a historically documented world exterior to his book: “The archives of the little town of Cagliari, in Sardinia, contain the account of an astonishing historical fact [Les archives de la petite ville de Cagliari, en Sardaigne, contiennent la relation d’un fait historique et etonnant]” (15/21)4 Why the opening gesture toward history in two texts whose destination is, ostensibly, a theorization of the tragic? If there is to be a handy, seemingly binarized organizational motif to this paper, it is this dance of the theoretical and historical: because both texts discuss the nature of an aesthetic genre, they therefore must, by extension, reveal something of the interaction between that aesthetic realm and the physical world in which it lives and breathes. Yet perhaps this binary framework will prove unstable and lead us onto other ground.

Although my approach may already sound predictably deconstructive, I argue below that preserving distinctions between the aesthetic/theoretical and the historical will permit Nietzsche’s and Artaud’s formulations on the theater to serve as models of an art that works through metaphysical and epistemological channels to effect tangible political change. Rather than focus on deducing the political orientation of Nietzsche or Artaud, however, I investigate (and critically evaluate) the mechanisms whereby their versions of the theater pretend to operate in the political sphere. Theodor Adorno’s discussion of a properly politically effective art will help situate my reading; Adorno refers repeatedly to Brecht and Sartre as examples of misguided dramatists (and, it should not be forgotten, as theorists of drama) who intended their work to open avenues of engagement, and, following his cue, I will demonstrate that both Nietzsche and Artaud can be read in a manner that supports Adorno’s notions of what works and what fails in a politically committed theater. Alongside Adorno, Nietzsche’s and Artaud’s blueprints for drama contribute to a transformative tragic politics that seeks to overcome unpalatable social regimes by interrogating the epistemological formations and structures of representation from which they spring. However, unlike Adorno’s properly politically effective art, this version of political aesthetics is firmly grounded in what can only be categorized as a spiritual or metaphysical collectivization.


It will quickly become evident that I do not give much weight to Nietzsche’s philosophical development away from his early declarations in The Birth of Tragedy. Indeed, readings that focus on Nietzsche’s philosophical career too often dismiss his historiography of the theater as a mere stage on the life’s way of his intellectual development. For example, in Nietzsche’s Philosophy of Art, Julian Young treats The Birth merely as the first of four phases in Nietzsche’s thought and occupies himself more with what he calls “Nietzsche’s philosophy” than with Nietzsche’s “philosophy of art” (2).5 Likewise, although Tracy Strong’s argument in his seminal book on Nietzsche as a political thinker refuses to proceed in such a chronological fashion, it also forcibly embeds The Birth in the context of Nietzsche’s evolving thought as if that thought were one synchronous, always-present entity. It is of course true that The Birth of Tragedy can be located within the discursive arc (following Young) or totality (following Strong) of Nietzschean thought, but it also belongs to a tradition of theater theory and aesthetics, to the question of art and the world outside of it. It is in this context that I wish to consider it, along with Artaud’s The Theater and Its Double. For if my argument here engages the question of aesthetic theory and political praxis in the thought of two particular men, it also hopes to consider the nature and power of affective art in general.

It may also be useful at this point briefly to characterize my use of the term political. Heilke commences an article on Nietzschean politics by reminding his reader that “the everyday problems of our time have come to include not merely the typical problems of political rule, but large-scale alienation, displacement, and even genocide on a grand scale” (201). Because of this, Heilke seems to insist that we broaden our understanding of politics to a scope commensurate with Nietzsche’s own quite broad understanding of the political: “Nietzsche does not offer us an analysis of politics for the use of practitioners. How states are obtained, how they are kept, and how they are lost, for example, are not items of interest in his analysis of politics; neither are world-historical panoramas of political purposes in the tradition of Hegel and his intellectual progeny. Nor are his books public policy manuals for modern legislators or administrators” (Nietzsche’s Tragic Regime 125). Nicola Chiaromonte argues similarly in an essay on Artaud and political theater: “`Politics,’ for the Greeks, meant `what concerns the polis,’ and the polis was not only the place of everyone, a free space protected by sacred laws, but also the place of everything, that is of all that concerns man as a human being, and not just his private affairs; and, by the same token, not only the public affairs of the moment [>, per loro, voleva dire >, e la polis non era solo il luogo di tutti, uno spazio libero protetto da leggi sacre, ma anche di tutto, ossia di tutto cio the riguarda l’uomo in quanto uomo, e non unicamente i suoi affari privati; ma neppure unicamente i fatti pubblici del momento]” (“The Political Theater” 131/”Il teatro politico” 34). Both Heilke and Chiaromonte support a conception of politics capacious enough to include what was once labeled the “social.” Joan Scott, on the other hand, would have us maintain a distinction between politics as broadly and narrowly conceived-that is, between (respectively) politics as “any contest for power within which identities … are created” and politics as the “formal participation in government or the state” (56). It is precisely this conceptual separation that Nietzsche, Artaud, and Adorno might contest; at the very least, they would maintain a role for the social in the political, just as Strong, Heilke, and Chiaromonte do, and-on a level more germane to the subject of this paper-a role for theory in practice.6

Indeed, the role of the theoretical in the realm of praxis is the watermark of Adorno’s articulations on properly political art, and especially theater: “Committed art in the proper sense is not intended to generate ameliorative measures, legislative acts or practical institutions-like earlier propaganda plays against syphilis, duels, abortion laws or borstals-but to work at the level of fundamental attitudes [Engagierte Kunst im pragnanten Sinn will nicht Massnahmen, gesetz– geberische Akte, praktische Veranstaltungen herbeifuhren wie altere Tendenzstucke gegen die Syphilis, das Duell, den Abtreibungsparagraphen oder die Zwangserziehungsheime, sondern auf eine Haltung hinarbeiten]” (“Commitment” 180/”Engagement” 412).7 Adorno never specifically offers a methodology for this “work at the level of fundamental attitudes,’ but one can infer from another passage in “Commitment” (as well as from the whole of Aesthetic Theory) the shape that it might assume: “Eulogists of ‘relevance’ are more likely to find Sartre’s Huis Clos profound, than to listen patiently to a text whose language challenges signification and by its very distance from meaning revolts in advance against positivist subordination of meaning [Lobredner von Bindungen werden eher Sartres Huis clos, tief finden, als mit Geduld einen Text sick anhoren, in dem die Sprache an der Bedeutung ruttelt and durch ihre Sinnferne vorweg gegen die positive Unterstellung von Sinn rebelliert]” (179/411) .8 The goal, then, is a transformation that first manifests itself as an epistemological duel, an interference with the fixedness in structures of meaning that enables, at its worst, catastrophic political formations and historical events. In Adorno’s most succinct engagement with this question, he pinpoints paratactical textual moments in Holderlin’s work that constitute “artificial disturbances that evade the logical hierarchy of a subordinating syntax [kunstvolle Storungen … welche der logischen Hierarchic subordinierender Syntax ausweichen]” (“Parataxis” 131/471). Indeed, Adorno claims that it is in Holderlin’s works that the “dichterische Bewegung” or “poetic movement” first disrupts “the category of meaning [die Kategorie des Sinnes]” (136/477). The transposition of this disruption into the register of political action merely expresses the practical ramifications of an epistemological shift, brought on by what Adorno calls the “Schock des Unverstandlichen,”the shock of the unintelligible” (“Commitment” 180/”Engagement” 412). This position is cogently summarized by Herbert Marcuse in the preface to his The Aesthetic Dinwnsian:9

Literature can be called revolutionary in a meaningful sense only with reference to itself, as content having become form. The political potential of art lies only in its own aesthetic dimension. Its relation to praxis is inexorably indirect, mediated, frustrating. The more immediately political the work of art, the more it reduces the power of estrangement and the radical, transcendent goals of change. In this sense, there may be more subversive potential in the poetry of Baudelaire and Rimbaud than in the didactic plays of Brecht. (xiii)

This unqualified pairing of the radical and the transcendent informs my examination of Nietzsche’s and Artaud’s essays, which will, in the spirit of Adorno, focus on the tangled relations between theory and praxis. Anyone who can envision, as Nietzsche does, philosophizing with something as solid as a hammer surely bears such relations in mind.

The somewhat uncomfortable coexistence of theoretical and practical desires in Nietzsche and Artaud can be seen in the critical reception of both The Birth of Tragedy and The Theater and Its Double. Critics who engage the political aspects of Nietzsche’s work are split when it comes to The Birth of Tragedy. On the one hand, for example, David Owens book-length study of Nietzsche’s politics devotes barely four pages to this work, and Ike Okonta and Mark Blitz decline to mention it at all. On the other hand, Bruce Detwiler incorporates readings of The Birth’s Dionysian principle into his Nietzsche and the Politics of Aristocratic Radicalism; Silk and Stern laud The Birth of Tragedy as “Nietzsche’s most sustained attempt at a theory of art” (225); and Peter Sloterdijk declares it to be one of the “most fundamental texts of modernity [grundlegenden Texte der Moderne]” (Thinker xxv/Denker 9). In retrospect, Nietzsche himself saw The Birth of Tragedy as the first site of his ongoing transvaluation of all values (Twilight of the Idols [Gotzen– Dammerung, 1889]), a project rife, as critics like Tracy Strong have noted, with political implications.

Certainly, Strong’s attention to the political import of Nietzsche’s greater project has had a groundbreaking influence on political exegeses of Nietzsche, but The Birth of Tragedy is an indeterminate entity in this study. His reading of Nietzsche’s predilection for pre-Socratic thinkers ends with the assertion that “the preSocratics make possible a dialogue between philosophy, science, and politics,’ a contention upon which Strong builds an entire assessment of Nietzsche’s historiography of Greek tragedy (Friedrich Nietzsche 160). What is missing in this triumverate of philosophy, science, and politics, however, is the aesthetic, and this omission reverberates throughout Friedrich Nietzsche and the Politics of Transfiguration: whether treating Homer, Hesiod, Aeschylus, or Euripides, Strong renders the texts as lesson-conveying ethical or political statements (137; see esp. 145-82). Though Strong will elsewhere cite the “turn toward aesthetics as the basis for the political realm” in Nietzsche, his emphasis on what the plays seem explicitly to say ignores what Nietzsche’s favored version of tragic theater either does not say explicitly or does not say at all-what is communicated through the Adornian “shock of the unintelligible” (“Nietzsche’s Political Aesthetics” 162). Strong does indeed recognize that, for Nietzsche, “some forms of acceptance or understanding, what I have called the unquestioned, simply do not admit of being didactically taught. Either they are presented in such a way that they penetrate below conscious assessing, or else they are simply unmeaningful” (Friedrich Nietzsche 174). However, he does not elaborate on the enormous potential of this unconscious moment, and certainly not in relation to tragedy. Thus Strong concludes that, for Nietzsche, “myth is a consciously held illusion;’ even though in the passage of The Birth of Tragedy to which he refers Nietzsche says, to the contrary, that “the images of myth are unnoticed [unbemerkt]” (183).10 Nevertheless, Strong’s summation of the political Nietzsche is invaluable, and my aim here is merely to flesh out the political aspects of Nietzsche’s tragic aesthetics-the potency of its negativity.

Critics writing on Artaud are also split-not against each other but within themselves. Chiaromonte, for example, asks: “What is one to conclude, then? I think we must recognize the fact that his idea of the theater is not merely ambiguous but self-contradictory to the point of schizophrenia. On the one hand, his theater must strive for internal effectiveness and the purity of poetry. On the other, it must cling furiously to the corporeal, to the physical evidence, to the brutal and exterior effect [Come concludere, dunque? A mio parere, accettando il fatto the il discorso di Artaud sul teatro ia non solo ambiguo ma duplice fino al limite della schizofrenia. Esso e da una parte teso verso la purezza della poesia e Fefficacia interiore, dall’altra rimane furiosamente avvinghiato alla corporeita, all’evidenza fisica, all’effetto esteriore e brutale]” ( Antonin Artaud” 125/66-67).11 Most Artaud scholars concede that Artaud fails to achieve any logical, systemic unity, but they are quick to recall that his widespread and powerful influence over contemporary theater pointedly establishes the importance of The Theater and Its Double. These pronouncements on Artaud return us to the theory/practice opposition, and, interestingly enough, Chiaromonte refers to The Birth of Tragedy, “in which, he argues, the two opposed principles so at odds in Artaud are defined with considerably greater clarity [dove i due principi opposti the si combattono in Artaud sono definiti con chiarezza alquanto maggiore]” (126/67). According to Chiaromonte, then, Nietzsche, like Artaud, cultivates an “internal effectiveness” to produce “the brutal and exterior effect.”

At the risk of appearing to digress, I want briefly to mention here German Greens Party founder and political thinker Rudolf Bahro’s writings, from the early 1980s, on rescuing a radical politics in decline; Bahro’s thoughts will open a window through which notions of subjectivity (a theme crucial to the political aesthetics of both Nietzsche and Artaud) and its role in political transformation can enter the discussion.12 Bahro invigorates here what would otherwise be an argument from the theorists’ corner, for, as an actual political activist, his voice is an intriguing one in a debate over which roads lead to real, measurable political change. In an editorial called “Dare to Form Communes” (first published in Befreiung in 1983), Bahro castigates the left for “reacting superficially-in a merely political way” (86). He calls instead for a “spiritualization of politics” in a manner that recalls Chiaromonte’s description of Artaud’s and Nietzsche’s desire for an interior metamorphosis that culminates in an outward effect (108). Of course, for Bahro, such a spiritualization entails an almost Benedictine, retreat-centered communitarianism and meditative mode of life-and yet, oddly, this centripetal urgency tethers him to the theoretical scaffolding employed here to read Nietzsche and Artaud. Herbert Marcuse, for example, posits the retreat of the subject into a state of “inwardness” as a politically valuable and viable “counter-force against aggressive and exploitative socialization,” once that subject returns to the world outside (4-5).13 Peter Sloterdijk goes even further than Marcuse: “All `inner paths,’ even when they appear awfully unrealistic, flow together in the single tendency that furthers real pacification… [M] editation and disarmament discover a strategic common interest [Alle >>inneren Wege

Where in Adorno’s rubric for political theater, tacitly reconstructed above, do The Birth of Tragedy and The Theater and Its Double fit? For both Nietzsche and Artaud the underlying problem that must be confronted is a problem of knowledge. Jacques Derrida, in a very Nietzschean mode in his first essay on Emmanuel Levinas, remarks that such problems of knowledge are, “by right of birth, and for one time at least…. problems put to philosophy as problems philosophy cannot resolve [par naissance et pour une fois au moins, des problemes qui sont poses a la philosophic comme problemes qu’elle ne peut resoudre]” (“Violence” 79/ 118)-problems philosophy cannot resolve, that is, because it figures in them. In his “Attempt at a Self-Criticism” Nietzsche anticipates this dilemma in a moment of apologia for art (and specifically for theater), which he has chosen as the forum for engaging “das Problem der Wissenschaft,” the “problem of science,’ a problem which “cannot be recognized in the context of science [kann nicht auf dem Boden der Wissenschaft erkannt werden]” (18/1:13). He calls attention to it again, much later, in The Genealogy of Morals (Zur Genealogie der Moral, 1887): “Science conceived of as a problem; what does science means Consult the preface to The Birth of Tragedy [Wissenschaft als Problem gefasst; was bedeutet Wissenschaft?-vergl. daruber die Vorrede zur `Geburt der Tragodie’]” (V:403, trans. mine). Science and scientism cannot be employed to interrogate science and scientism; our Socratic, positivistic, and objectivity-geared strategies of knowing, with their attendant impulse to realism and their naive aesthetic faith in the “Schein des Scheins,” cannot be brandished against the problem of such knowledge. As aware of this as both Artaud and Derrida would be, Nietzsche responds to this epistemological problem with a formulation of tragedy that revolts against unshaken faith in systems of representation, against naivete. This epistemological and metaphysical uprising against the evil spirits of Socrates,14 mimesis, and the principium individuationis organizes both Nietzsche’s and Artaud’s efforts at political transformation. The locus of resistance must reside outside of Socratic logic, and Nietzsche and Artaud choose as their weapon an anti-Socratic aesthetics.


Nietzschean resistance begins with his strident critique of the deleterious effects of Euripides’ “Socratism” on what was once a vibrant Greek tragic culture: “The deity that spoke through [Euripides] was neither Dionysus nor Apollo, but an altogether newborn demon, called Socrates [Die Gottheit, die aus [Euripides] redete, war nicht Dionysus, auch nicht Apollo, sondern ein ganz neugeborner Damon, genannt Sokrates].” Nietzsche labels the “Socratic tendency with which Euripides combated and vanquished Aeschylean tragedy [sokratischen Tendenz, mit der Euripides die aeschylaeische Tragodie bekampfte and besiegte]” (82, emphasis Walter Kaufmann/I:83) “aesthetic Socratism; and he cites Euripides’ introduction of the expositional prologue as one example. In Nietzsche’s telling of this historical transition, before Sophocles and Aeschylus the audience sat in bewilderment, confused at the play’s start, until characters’ roles were gradually clarified by the action. This prolonged confusion interfered with the sympathetic aims of the plays: “So long as the spectator has to figure out the meaning of this or that person, or the presuppositions of this or that conflict of inclinations and purposes, he cannot become completely absorbed in the activities and sufferings of the chief characters or feel breathless pity and fear [So lange der Zuhorer noch ausrechnen muss, was these and jene Person bedeute, was dieser and jener Conflict der Neigungen and Absichten fur Voraussetzungen babe, ist seine volle Versenkung in das Leiden and Thun der Hauptperson, ist das athemlose Mitleiden and Mitfurchten noch nicht moglich]” (84/I:86). Sophocles and Aeschylus alter this by innovation, by inventing the “most ingenious [geistreichsten]” artistic means for more natural and less interfering exposition. Euripides then throws any residual uncertainty on the part of the spectators right out the window by inserting a prologue directly into the mouth of a trustworthy character. From that god-like fount of expositional truth, Nietzsche argues, it was just a short step to the implementation of the deus ex machina, the end of all theatrical negativity. By employing the prologue to banish the discomfort of narrative uncertainty from the stage Euripides thus speaks to the Socratic tenet that “to be beautiful everything must be intelligible [alles muss verstandig sein, um schon zu sein]’ a tenet that in turn parallels the Socratic idea that “only knowledge is virtue [nur der Wissende ist tugendhaft]” (83-84/1:85). (Nietzsche likes this particular point well enough to reiterate it barely a page later: “to be beautiful everything must be conscious [alles muss bewusst sein, um schon zu sein],” he says, providing an aesthetic variant of the Socratic notion that “to be good everything must be conscious [alles muss bewusst sein, um gut zu sein]” [86/I:87].) Contrast this with Adorno’s notion of a politically polyvalent theater that is effective through its unintelligibility, and it is clear that aesthetic Socratism runs counter to any brand of theater that hopes to effect change at the most fundamental level.

Artaud similarly targets the demystifying mindset, a penchant for psychologizing that, he asserts, has dominated occidental theater since the Renaissance: “We have been accustomed for four hundred years… to a purely descriptive and narrative theater-storytelling psychology… Psychology, which works relentlessly to reduce the unknown to the known, to the quotidian and ordinary, is the cause of theater’s abasement and its fearful loss of energy [On nous a habitues depuis quatre cents ans … a un theatre purement descriptif et qui raconte, qui raconte de la psychologie …. La psychologie qui s’acharne a reduire l’inconnu au connu, c’est-a-dire au quotidien et a l’ordinaire, est la cause de cet abaissement et de cette effrayante deperdition d’energie]” (76-77/119). For Artaud, the true theater stands opposed to philosophy and runs counter to the Socratic heritage of Western thought: “To analyze such a drama philosophically is impossible [Analyser philosophiquement un tel drame est impossible]” (50/77). Placing himself within the early-Nietzschean aesthetic tradition, he demands that, “This empiricism, randomness, individualism and anarchy must cease [Il faut que cessent cet empirisme, ce hasard, cet individualisme et cette anarchie]” (79/122). While the distrust of empiricism and individualism squares readily with Nietzsche’s critique of Socratism, Artaud’s inclusion of “anarchie” on his hit list might be surprising and is worthy of further discussion. I would suggest that Artaud here understands the word in its etymological sense of “without origin” or “without beginning” rather than in its more political context (“without rule”); this reading would agree with the stated desire of both Nietzsche and Artaud to return to what they perceived to be the pre-Socratic roots of tragedy.

Derrida’s essay on Artaud, “The Theater of Cruelty and the Closure of Representation [Le theatre de la cruaute et la cloture de la representation],’ helps both to open and to temper the rebellion against representation in The Birth of Tragedy and The Theater and Its Double. Derrida concludes in the essay that, following Artaud, “To think the closure of representation is to think the tragic: not as the representation of fate, but as the fate of representation [Penser la cloture de la representation, c’est penser la tragique: non pas comme representation du destin mais comme destin de la representation]” (250/368). Derrida’s reading of Artaud thus correlates fairly closely with Adorno’s reading of absurdist theater. If Derrida ends dramatically, though, he begins no less so:

If throughout the world today-and so many examples bear witness to this in the most striking fashion-all theatrical audacity declares its fidelity to Artaud (correctly or incorrectly, but with increasing insistency), then the question of the theater of cruelty, of its present inexistence and its implacable necessity, has the value of a historic question. A historic question not only because it could be inscribed within what is called the history of theater, not because it would be epoch-making within the becoming of theatrical forms, or because it would occupy a position within the succession of models of theatrical representation. This question is historic in an absolute and radical sense. It announces the limit of representation. (233-34, emphases mine)

Si aujourd’hui, dans le monde entier-et tant de manifestations en temoignent de maniere eclatante-toute l’audace theAtrale declare, a tort ou a raison mail avec une insistance toujours plus grande, sa fidelite a Artaud, la question du theatre de la cruaute, de son inexistence presente et de son ineluctable necessite, a valeur de question historique. Historique non parce qu’elle se laisserait inscrire dans ce qu’on appelle l’histoire du theatre, non parce qu’elle ferait epoque dans le devenir des former the trales on occuperait une place dans la succession des modeles de la representation theatrale. Cette question est historique en un sens absolu et radical. Elle annonce la limite de la representation. (343, emphases mine)

In other words, Artaud is the originator of a theater that historically (because first) and emphatically brings to attention-and tackles as one of its primary subjects-the problem of representation. Unlike Adorno, Derrida looks to Artaud to ground a reading of the “shock of the unintelligible,” even if he does not attempt to unravel its full practical implications; yet, like Adorno, Derrida omits Nietzsche from this equation 15 While Derrida’s essay stops short of engaging fully all that is at stake in Artaud’s (and Nietzsche’s) politics of tragedy, however, he nevertheless frames Artaud in a manner that helps illuminate The Birth of Tragedy.

Derrida holds that Artaud’s “theater of cruelty is not a representation. It is life itself, in the extent to which life is unrepresentable [theatre de cruaute nest pas une representation. C’est la vie elle-meme en ce qu’elle a d’irrepresentable]” (234/ 343). Michael Hinden likewise reminds us that the Nietzschean Dionysian state is “unrepresentable,’ and one recalls that the Dionysian stands confidently at the center of Nietzsche’s construction of the tragic (112). However, for the most concise articulation of representation and its role in Nietzsche’s vision of tragedy, one must turn to his description of the role of music in the (re)birth of the tragic state. Here, Nietzsche invokes Schopenhauer’s belief that music appears as Will, tempering that idea by carefully differentiating between music-as-Will (an idea that-following Nietzsche’s reading of Schopenhauer-is impossible, since the Will and the aesthetic-to which music belongs-are antithetical) and music-as-appearance/Erscheinung-of-the-Will (55/I:50-51). He revisits this claim later in The Birth, glossing a long citation of Schopenhauer (103/I:107). The difference between music and its less perfect outgrowth, tragedy, becomes clear in surprisingly Platonic terms toward the essay’s end, when Nietzsche declares that “music is the real idea of the world, drama is but the reflection of this idea, a single silhouette of it [die Musik ist die eigentliche Idee der Welt, das Drama nur ein Abglanz dieser Idee, ein vereinzeltes Schattenbild derselben]” (129/I:138). Nietzsche ascribes this distinction between music and drama-and hence his implied verdict on the limitations of tragedy as opposed to music-to the poverty of the symbolic order operational in the theater: namely, language (die Sprache): Language can never adequately render the cosmic symbolism of music, because music stands in symbolic relation to the primordial contradiction and primordial pain in the heart of the primal unity, and therefore symbolizes a sphere which is beyond and prior to all phenomena. Rather, all phenomena, compared with it, are merely symbols: hence language, as the organ and symbol of phenomena, can never by any means disclose the innermost heart of music… (55; Kaufmands emphasis)

Der Weltsymbolik der Musik ist eben deshalb mit der Sprache auf keine Weise erschopfend beizukommen, well sie sich auf den Urwiderspruch und Urschmerz im Herzen des Ur-Einen symbolisch bezieht, somit cine Sphare symbolisirt, die uber alle Erscheinung und vor aller Erscheinung ist. Ihr gegenuber ist vielmehr jede Erscheinung nur Gleichniss: daher kann die Sprache, als Organ und Symbol der Erscheinung, nie und nirgends das tiefste Innere der Musik nach Aussen kehren … (1:51)

This is not the first time in the essay that Nietzsche raises the linguistic issue; earlier in the same chapter, in a philological move that would make Derrida envious, Nietzsche gestures to a cleft between the language of Erscheinung and the language of Musik in classical Greek: “In this sense we may discriminate between two main currents in the history of the language of the Greek people, according to whether their language imitated the world of image and phenomenon or the world of music [In diesem Sinne durfen wir in der Sprachgeschichte des griechischen Volkes zwei Hauptstromungen unterscheiden, jenachdem die Sprache die Erscheinungs-und Bilderwelt oder die Musikwelt nachahmte]” (54/ I:49). The presence here of the notion of Nachahmung, imitation in the vein of mimesis, is crucial, for it conceptually links language itself, and linguistic representation, to the mimetic act-which becomes, at its extreme, the Socrates– inspired penchant for vraisemblant realism in tragedy.

The emphatic shift toward mimesis in Greek tragedy belongs to the intellectual lineage of Socratism, according to Nietzsche; it is part and parcel of the paradigm that must banish myth and mystery, that must know something in order to consider it good or beautiful. Thus arrives the moment at which the spectator is no longer conscious of the myth, but of the vigorous truth to nature and the artist’s imitative power. Here also we observe the victory of the phenomenon over the universal, and the delight in a unique, almost anatomical preparation; we are already in the atmosphere of a theoretical world, where scientific knowledge is valued more highly than the artistic reflection ofa universal law. (108)

der Zuschauer uberhaupt nicht mehr den Mythus, sondern die machtige Naturwahrheit and die Imitationskraft des Kinstlers empfindet. Auch hier gewahren wir den Sieg der Erscheinung uber das Allgemeine und die Lust an dem einzelnen gleichsam anatomischen Praparat, wir athmen bereits die Luft einer theoretischen Welt, welcher die wissenschaftliche Erkenntniss hoher gilt als die kunstlerische Wiederspiegelung einer Weltregel. (I:113)

Against the mimetic tendencies of aesthetic Socratism, Nietzsche calls for abolishing not just representation in the form of theatrical Naturwahrheit, but linguistic representation as well: “We need a new world of symbols, the entire bodily symbolism, not the mere symbolism of the lips, face, and speech but the whole pantomime of dancing, forcing every member into rhythmic movement [Fine neue Welt der Symbole ist nothig, einmal die gauze leibliche Symbolik, nicht nur die Symbolik des Mundes, des Gesichts, des Wortes, sondern die volle, alle Glieder rhythmisch bewegende Tanzgebarde]” (40/I:33-34). The terms used to describe this new symbolic order are clearly meant to suggest the force of music and its “trembling violence of the tone [erschutternde Gewalt des Tones] ” Given Nietzsche’s belief that music is the ideal conduit for the appearance of the Schopenhauerian Will-as opposed to conventional dramatic structures, which can only be a “reflection of this idea”-what Nietzsche demands in this new symbolic order seems to be akin to what Derrida in his essay on Artaud refers to as “presence pure” (363). Not surprisingly, then, Camille Dumoulie, comparing cruelty in Artaud and Nietzsche, seems to find in Derrida’s reading of Artaud and the notion of pure presence an effort toward “l’introduction du reel dans le symbolique” ( “Antonin Artaud” 949) 1′ Indeed, although Dumoulie does not mention it, Artaud explicitly ascribes the problems of the times to the space between signifier and referent: “If confusion is the sign of the times, I see at the root of this confusion a rupture between things and words, between things and the ideas and signs that are their representation [Si le signe de l’epoque est la confusion, je vois A la base de cette confusion une rupture entre les choses, et les paroles, les idees, les signer qui en sont la representation]” (7/12). According to Dumoulie, Holderlin and Nietzsche are among an important short list of artists who, like Artaud, have made this epistemological demand for the union of signifier and referent (“Antonin Artaud” 956). Nietzsche’s role here is of course the scope of this paper, while Holderlin’s will remind the reader of Adorno’s notion of paratactical resistance to subordinating structures of linguistic representation. In what seems to be the Nietzschean take on pure presence, speech (Mend), expression (Gesicht), and language (Wort) give way to the musicality of rhythm and dance, to the already mentioned “Weltsymbolik der Musik” the “eigentliche Idee der Welt.”

However, if Nietzsche envisions the new symbolic order and mode of representation in musical terms, he also expresses them in quite physical ones, in dancing limbs. This vocabulary of gesture provides an interesting point of contact with The Theater and Its Double, where Artaud proffers a similar alternative to linguistic representation: a symbolic order of the gesture to replace that of spoken language. Artaud goes so far as to oppose the gestured to the spoken or written, and he intimates that it is through the gesture that the theater will stand against categories of linguistic representation: “What is essential now, it seems to me, is to determine what this physical language consists of, this solidified, materialized language by means of which theater is able to differentiate itself from speech [Le plus urgent me parait etre de determiner en quoi consiste ce langage physique, ce langage materiel et solide par lequel le theatre peut se differencier de la parole]” (38/56). The goal of the “theatre put” is to ‘elimine[r] les mots,” a move surely related to Artaud’s dictum against written scripts in his Theater of Cruelty (82). The “langage materiel et solide” of which he speaks implies a pure presence, as Derrida asserts, not representation-and this is reinforced by Artaud’s second manifesto on the Theater of Cruelty, in which he directly relates the “espace” of the stage with the “esprit” of the spectator (195). There is no intervening separation; as implied by the notion of pure communicative presence, what happens on the stage in Artaud’s conception of the theater happens as well and simultaneously in the minds of its intended audience. In his examination of the tragic chorus, Nietzsche’s account of the poetic use of metaphor similarly departs from the realm of representation and veers toward that of presence: “For the genuine poet, metaphor is not a rhetorical figure but a vicarious image that he actually beholds in place of a concept. A character is for him not a whole he has composed out of particular traits, picked up here and there, but an obtrusively alive person before his very eyes [Die Metapher ist fur den achten Dichter nicht eine rhetorische Figur, sondern ein stellvertretendes Bild, das ihm wirklich, an Stelle eines Begriffes, vorschwebt. Der Character ist fur ihn nicht etn,vas aus zusammengesuchten Einzelzfigen componirtes Ganzes, sondern eine vor semen Augen aufdringlich lebendige Person]” (63/I:60). Nietzsche’s view of properly tragic theater as a less-perfect descendent of music and his emphasis on the physicality of a newly conceived symbolic order clearly align him with Artaud’s novel vocabulary of gesture and with Derrida’s tethering of the Theater of Cruelty to a desire for pure presence. This is the antidote for the abstraction and mythlessness of a scientism inherited from Socrates (the “auf Vernichtung des Mythus gerichteten Sokratismus”), Nietzsche claims; the rebirth of tragedy, like Artaud’s projection of the theater, is an attempt to reverse the Socratic epistemological development and its echoes within the practical world.

Once again, one confronts the question of the relationship of theory to practice, the manner in which both Nietzsche and Artaud hope to effect tangible social or political change via a recalibration of our theatrical impulses. As mentioned above, Derrida astutely observes the strategy (the revolt against representation) that Artaud’s Theater of Cruelty plans to employ to this political end, but he ignores the broader practical implications, readily apparent in Artaud’s essays, of this mode of tragic action. This oversight is certainly at play in a blatantly selfcontradictory passage from Derrida’s treatment of Artaud: “These simultaneously technical and ‘metaphysical’ questions (metaphysical in the sense understood by Artaud), arise spontaneously from the reading of all texts in The Theater and Its Double, for these texts are more solicitations than a sum of precepts, more a system of critiques shaking the entirety of Occidental history than a treatise on theatrical practice [Ces questions, a la fois techniques et > (au sens ou Artaud entend ce mot), se posent d’elles-memes a la lecture de tour les textes du Theatre et son Double qui sont des sollicitations plus qu’une somme de preceptes, un systeme de critiques ebranlant le tout de l’histoire de l’Occident plus qu’un traite de la pratique theatrale]” (235/345). While Derrida points to the “technical” issues raised by The Theater and Its Double, he locates Artaud’s work away from the area of “theatrical practice”; surely, though, questions of techne are analogous to questions of praxis, especially within the theater-and especially in light of the reading of Art-aud’s thought that I have offered here.17 Derrida appears to want to make more connections here, but restricts himself to a brief throwaway clause early in “The Theater of Cruelty and the Closure of Representation,” where he writes, “For Artaud, the future of the theater-thus, the future in general … [Pour Artaud, l’avenir du theatre-donc l’avenir en general …]” (232/341).18 Richard White makes a remarkably similar claim with respect to the transformative desire in Nietzsche’s articulation of the theater: “In The Birth of Tragedy Nietzsche recovers the mythical origins of Greek drama not as an exercise in historical scholarship but in order to force the hand of the future” (59). Both Nietzsche and Artaud seek change at a deeper cultural level, the “soil of a different culture” of which Rudolf Bahro writes (86).

Given the clearly affective desire and prescriptive tone of both The Birth of Tragedy and The Theater and Its Double, Derrida’s statement that Artaud’s collection of essays is not really a treatise might merit further analysis, as does the imagined readership of both these texts. Derrida argues that the number of critiques aimed at the foundations of Western culture throughout The Theater and Its Double undermines the text’s potential as a cogent system. And if one focuses on what Derrida terms “solicitations” in Artaud, then perhaps the essays should be viewed as a manifesto rather than a systematic treatise. Of course, Artaud himself labels several of the chapters as such. The sermonics of The Birth of Tragedy’s final chapters also certainly bear the mark of a collective call to arms, in the style and rushed rhetorical breath of a manifesto. Whether treatise or manifesto, however, for whom were these lengthy compositions on the theater written? At least one of Nietzsche’s early defenders, Richard Wagner, saw Nietzsche’s intended audience as a broad one indeed, and he applauded Nietzsche for “speaking to us and not to [other] scholars” (qtd. in Silk and Stern 97). (Although, as Silk and Stern point out, Wagner’s defense of Nietzsche was really a self-defense, as attacks on Nietzsche’s unabashedly pro-Wagner essay were easily reducible to attacks on Wagner himself.) Nietzsche himself does not appear to have been so optimistic when discussing the readership of The Birth in his “Attempt at a Self-Criticism;’ which he begins by referring to The Birth as “almost inaccessible [schlecht zuganglich]” (17/I:11). Later, he wryly considers it “a book perhaps for artists who also have an analytic and retrospective penchant (in other words, an exceptional type of artist for whom one might have to look far and wide and really would not care to look) [ein Buch vielleicht fur Kunstler mit dem Nebenhange analytischer und retrospektiver Fahigkeiten (das heisst fur eine Ausnahme-Art von Kunstlern, nach denen man suchen muss und nicht einmal suchen mochte) ]” (18/I:13). The Nietzsche who authored the “Self-Criticism” in 1886 clearly believed he was targeting a crowd of creators, those capable of bringing to fruition precisely the brand of theater he champions, if such exceptional artists exist. Artaud, on the other hand, does not overtly mention his intended readership, but the vast majority of the chapters contained in Le Theatre et son double were published by Andre Gide’s academic journal Nouvelle Revue Franfaise, while others were presented at academic conferences at the Sorbonne.19 Thus one can guess with some confidence that Artaud was targeting, like Nietzsche, readers in a position to implement his suggested theatrical strategies, and a quick list of those in whom Artaud’s influence has been perceived might include Jean Genet, Jean-Paul Sartre, Peter Weiss, Peter Brook, Jerzy Grotowski, Peter Shaffer, and Richard Schechner.20 Michael Hinden’s roll call of those influenced by Nietzsche in his article on The Birth of Tragedy contains, perhaps not surprisingly, many of the same names: Genet, Shaffer, Brook, Schechner, Grotowski, and, of course, Artaud himself (97). In other words, not only did Artaud’s text influence many of the same people Hinden sees influenced by Nietzsche, but both texts also appear to have reverberated among the very writers and directors with the potential to shape or reshape the Western theater and thus Western culture.


It is tempting here to follow a Derridean and perhaps Adornian line of reasoning to its logical conclusion. That is, after arguing that Nietzsche and Artaud select as their weapon against the destructive governing Western epistemology of Socratism a form of theater that attempts to disrupt the structures of representation, it is tempting, as this essay moves into a discussion of their focus on collectivity (as against individualism), to see the collapse of the subject as a necessary result-to say, for example, that when one asserts pure presence one abolishes the difference that maintains ordered systems of representation, as well as abolishing the conceptual separation required to demarcate one (individual) subject from other subjects. However, pushing the argument to this extreme is unnecessary, and is an imposition upon both Artaud and Nietzsche, for whom the move from the individuated subject to the unified collective is simply both an immediate effect of the theater they are proposing and a radical first step toward practical change. If The Birth of Tragedy is the death of the principium individuationis and the Theater of Cruelty is the theater of collectivity, it is because Artaud and Nietzsche have elected to articulate the shift in register from epistemological/theoretical transformation to practical/political change. That Artaud and Nietzsche resort to couching this shift in the very unpragmatic language of mystery, magic, and spirituality reveals both the influence of Eastern spiritual thought and a reification of their commitment (akin to that elucidated by Adorno and Bahro) to eventually tangible progress through paradigmatic and epistemological adjustment. In the interest of adducing complexities, I will add to my discussion of collectivization and the spiritualization of the collective a brief examination of precisely why both of these themes prove so continually problematic for critics of Nietzsche and Artaud.

Peter Sloterdijk summarizes The Birth of Tragedy as “a theory of the drama that then expands into a protohistory of subjectivity [eine Theorie des Dramas. . . . die sich zu einer Urgeschichte der Subjektivitat ausweitet]” (Thinker 16/Denker 38)-a desciription that could also pass for a summary of The Theater and Its Double. Nietzsche’s treatment of the subject moves from the collectivizing tendencies of early Greek tragedy, to the meddling insertion of Socratic individualism and the separation of subjects, and then, finally and triumphantly, to the rebirth of the collective as tragedy itself is resurrected. For Nietzsche, acknowledging his debt to Schopenhauer, the subjective opposes itself to the world of Kunst, and he goes so far as to affirm that “the subject, the willing individual that furthers his own egoistic ends, can be conceived of only as the antagonist, not as the origin of art [das Subject, das wollende and seine egoistischen Zwecke fordernde Individuum nur als Gegner, nicht als Ursprung der Kunst gedacht werden kann]” (52/I:47). In fact, such distinctions as those between individuals are ultimately dissolved by proper art, even in its early stages of composition: the artist “is at once subject and object, at once poet, actor, and spectator [Jetzt ist er zugleich Subject and Object, zugleich Dichter, Schauspieler and Zuschauer]” (52/I:48). Nietzsche views individuation as the source of all suffering, a notion borrowed, he claims, from Dionysian Mysteries, and he counters this source of suffering with “die Kunst,” “the joyous hope that the spell of individuation may be broken in augury of a restored oneness [die freudige Hoffnung, dass der Bann der Individuation zu zerbrechen sei…. die Ahnung einer wiederhergestellten Einheit]” (74/I:73). According to Nietzsche, the pathway to true socio-political change requires an abandonment of the illusory needs and determinations of the subject in favor of a united polls. The “joy involved in the annihilation of the individual [Freude an der Vernichtung des Individuums]” is the openness to being part of a unified whole (104/I:108); in its last gestures, Nietzsche’s essay even mirrors this tragic process, as his voice shifts dramatically from the first person singular to the more embracing and inclusive “wir” (120-22/I:128-30, for example), and the concept of “yolk” is upgraded to the level of a disturbing, recurrent motif (124-25/I:132-33). The final chapters of The Birth of Tragedy confirm Nietzsche’s belief that, although a Fuhrer can point the way, the Heimat to be reclaimed will be taken not by a Subject but by a collective Volk.

Artaud’s insistence on the collective, as against the individual, is conveyed in terms much like those used by Nietzsche-although they are conspicuously lacking in nationalism. In one of the essays in The Theater and Its Double, “The Theater of Cruelty,” Artaud claims that “The Theater of Cruelty proposes to resort to a mass spectacle; to seek in the agitation of tremendous masses, convulsed and hurled against each other, a little of that poetry of festivals and crowds, the days, all too rare today, when the people pour out into the streets [le Theatre de la cruaute se propose de recourir au spectacle de masses; de rechercher dans l’agitation de masses importantes, mais jetees Tune contre l’autre et convulse_es, un peu de cette poesie qui est dans les fetes et dans les foules, les fours, aujourd’hui trop rares, oh le peuple descend dans la rue]” (85/132). Theatrical collaboration in Artaud’s model of tragedy oversees the dissolution of individuality, as it does in Nietzsche’s, even at the level of composition/performance; it is in this theater that “the old duality between author and director will be dissolved, replaced by a sort of unique Creator upon whom will devolve the double responsibility of the spectacle and the plot [se fondra la vieille dualite entre l’auteur et le metteur en scene, remplaces par une some de Createur unique, a qui incombera la responsabilite double du spectacle et de Faction]” (94/144). Of course, in true affectively political fashion, the intended effect-an effect compared to the randomness and totalness of a plague-is an entirely practical one: “For if the theater is like the plague, it is not only because it affects important collectivities and upsets them in an identical way [Si le theatre est comme la peste, ce nest pas seulement parce qu’il agit sur d’importantes collectivites et qu’il les bouleverse dans un sens identique]” (27/39). This notion of theater-as-plague is another instance of Nietzschean influence, and specifically that of The Birth of Tragedy, although Artaud certainly makes more of it than does Nietzsche. While Nietzsche refers once in passing to the pestilential nature of his conception of tragedy: `find this phenomenon is encountered epidemically: a whole throng experiences the magic of this transformation [Und zwar tritt theses Phanomen epidemisch auf: eine game Schaar fuhlt sich in dieser Weise verzaubert]” (64/I:61),” Artaud devotes an entire chapter to it, elaborating on the ways in which the plague strikes regardless of social standing and other differentiating factors. In either case, the thematization of a theater that behaves like an epidemic outbreak emphasizes the extent to which both Artaud and Nietzsche see the stratum of tragedy’s activity as a fundamental one, at the Adornian level of Haltun.

As is evident in the passage of Nietzsche’s just cited-where the theater swells over its audience like an epidemic and “a whole throng experiences the magic of this transformation”-the vocabulary of magic, metaphysics, and spirituality seems to enter Nietzsche’s lexicon in The Birth of Tragedy most insistently at moments when his discursive focus is the collectivization of an audience of illusorily separate subjects. To an extent, one can attribute this to Nietzsche’s confidence in quasi-spiritualistic meta-narratives such as myth: “The myth,” he contends, “wants to be experienced vividly as a unique example of a universality and truth that gaze into the infinite [Der Mythus will als ein einziges Exempel einer in’s Unendliche hinein starrenden Allgemeinheit and Wahrheit anschaulich empfunden werden]” (107/I:112). However, Nietzsche’s faith in the culturally and socially redemptive power of mythography cannot wholly account for his incorporation of religious tropes in his revisionary tragic aesthetics, and there are a few instances in The Birth that attest perhaps to another motive for the attention to the spirit. For example, despite Nietzsche’s derision of theater that plays to its audience’s more “moralisch-religioser” side, Nietzsche himself employs certain Judaeo-Christian motifs (133/I:143). He refers to his sponsorship of the collective as an “Evangelium der Weltharmonie” and enfolds his agenda for socio-political transfiguration in occasionally Biblical terms, lifting a reference to “Milch and Honig” from the Exodus, for instance (37/I:29-30). The presence of the Exodus in what I have tried to situate as a text devoutly interested in radical political change should not surprise, perhaps, if one recalls Michael Walzer’s study of the Hebrew exodus as an authoritative historical blueprint for political transformation? But Nietzsche is so often, whether correctly or not, associated with the discourse of secularization and desacralization that also lays claim to Darwin, Marx, and Freud, despite the fact that he denigrates, in later works, the German embracing of hyper-secular positivism and empiricism, and mercilessly attacks the naturalists. Thus, what may startle some readers is the way that Nietzsche deploys these religious tropes in The Birth of Tragedy so that they do not appear to be even so much as tinged with irony; they are not the Habermasian “demonic inversions” that run rampant in later works from Also Sprach Zarathustra to DerAntichrist and Ecce homo (Habermas 65). Perhaps Nietzsche’s use of such imagery in his writing on tragedy represents an early attempt to tap into available cultural resources, a rhetorical strategy that recalls both the self-consciously forward-looking visionarism and the sense of returning to lost origins that dominate the final chapters of the essay.

Julia Kristeva has argued that “la litterature moderne”-and she explicitly mentions Artaud-“becomes a substitute for the role formerly played by the sacred [se substitue aux fonctions qu’accomplissait jadis le sacre]” (26/34).23 This would seem to be truer, though, of Nietzsche than of Artaud. The mysticism of Artaud’s articulation of the collectivity seems far less calculated and coherent. His explanation for his use of spiritual/metaphysical metaphors most often runs in a tautology that goes something like this: to be properly affective, theater must target the spirit, and spiritualized theater is the optimal variety because it is properly affective. There is one moment of great clarity in The Theater and Its Double that treats this specific topic, however, and it speaks eloquently to Artaud’s reversion to “primitive” (his word) models of spirituality as a means of expressing a need for political reformation: describing the costuming and symbolism of the Balinese theater, he writes that “these spiritual signs have a precise meaning which strikes us only intuitively but with enough violence to make useless any translation into logical discursive language [ces signes spirituels ont un sens precis, qui ne nous frappe plus qu’intuitivement, mais avec assez de violence pour rendre inutile toute traduction dans un langage logique et discursif]” (54/83). This careful dichotomization of the spiritual and the logical recalls one to the very impetus behind the Theater of Cruelty, namely, the dismantling of subordinating epistemological structures-the sort that Nietzsche attributes directly to Socrates and aesthetic Socratism-en route to a wider cultural renewal. Artaud’s spiritualization of the theater is, like Nietzsche’s, a deliberate contestation of an inherited and damaging logical tradition.

Both the collectivization and the spiritualization of tragedy espoused by Nietzsche and Artaud raise questions regarding issues of political orientation, and, although I have given assurance that this essay’s main interest would steer clear of attempting to assess or reassess these thinkers’ ideological bent, I would be remiss in neglecting at least a cursory invocation of the debate. Both Nietzsche and Artaud articulate the spiritual/mystical sides of their aesthetics as a sort of progressive regression, a reversion to long-abandoned but, in their view, positively valorized cultural paradigms. Anyone reaching back in history to recover such a lost moment runs the risk of being branded reactionary; indeed, during the recent furor over the opening of the new Reichstag, Hans Stimmann gestured toward this tendency that has, in almost knee-jerk fashion, instantly “associated nostalgia with conservatives” (Riding 38).24 Rudolf Bahro submitted himself to similar criticism when he declared the necessity of a return to Benedictine models of communitarianism in order to breathe life into the flagging Left. In light of the historical events that transpired in Europe soon after Nietzsche’s passing, and which seemed uncomfortably prefigured in The Birth of Tragedy’s insistence on the primacy of the unthinking and unindividuated mass, a call for a return to the roots of anything was to be shadowed later by considerable critical suspicion. Artaud escapes the most scathing attacks, because Mussolini, Franco, and Hitler were well ensconced in power before The Theater of Cruelty gained any sort of widespread currency.25 Nietzsche, however, was not so fortunate, either in his historical position-he cannot be said to post-date fascism and National Socialism-or in certain of his posthumous editors, who slanted his words in a manner that would reflect unfavorably upon him for decades and make the final, Volk-filled passages of Die Geburt der Tragodie an even more chilling read (see Magnus). Luminaries led the tsunami-like charge of accusations against Nietzsche, scholars like Georg Lukacs, in his Zerstorung der Vernunft, and Georges Bataille, in an essay on “Nietzsche et les fascistes.” M.-P. Nicolas, in his book From Nietzsche Down to Hitler, continues the trend, as does Howard Williams. On the other hand, Maurizio Serra is far more cynical about the possibility of reading Nietzsche into fascism, or, for that matter, of reading fascism into Nietzsche; Serra does seem to me, though, unhealthily skeptical in his certainty of the apoliticality -or at least the absolute political neutrality-of The Birth of Tragedy.26

Rather than function contentedly as theories on the state or origin of the theater, Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy and Artaud’s The Theater and Its Double occupy a space within a tradition of aesthetics that openly confesses its practical goals. In prescient accordance with Adorno’s model for properly political art, which works initially not at the surface level of governmental policies and legislative action but rather at far more fundamental levels, Nietzsche’s and Artaud’s formulations of an effective tragic theater seek political change through a remolding of the foundational structures of culture that enable and determine political formations. The deeply embedded nature of this change is emphasized by their focus on collectivities and broadly spiritual effects, and it is precisely this bearing that gives today’s readers of Nietzsche and Artaud such tremendous pause. However, lest one should feel compelled unreflectively to discount this strategic turn to the collective (which it is tempting to do), it might be best to recall here that Nietzsche is not the only thinker to inscribe change in such collectivizing terms. Consider this passage from Fredric Jameson: “For Marxism, indeed, only the emergence of a post-individualistic social world, only the reinvention of the collective and the associative, can concretely achieve the ‘decentering’ of the individual subject called for by such diagnoses; only a new and original form of collective social life can overcome the isolation and monadic autonomy of the older bourgeois subjects. .” (125). Delete the conditioning, introductory phrase “For Marxism;’ and Jameson-no fan of Nietzsche’s class politics and a critic almost impossible even hypothetically to situate within the fascist or totalitarian camp -sounds here quite Nietzschean.

While I share neither the opinion nor the vitriol of the critics I mentioned directly above, who have assaulted Nietzsche and Artaud for their turn away from the individual and toward the mass, I do wonder about one theoretical road that The Rebirth of Tragedy and the Theater of Cruelty might have taken. What would have happened if, rather than departing from the destructive subject-centered ontology of the Western tradition by moving toward the collective, Nietzsche and Artaud had attempted instead a move from the subject to the object, from the same to the other, in the way that more recent thinkers like Levinas, JeanFrancois Lyotard, and Derrida have done Like Nietzsche and Artaud, Levinas is disturbed by what he terms the “egology” of Western philosophy and the sociopolitical apparatuses erected upon and around it, but he intriguingly chooses a different remedy. There is not space here to tease out the fuller implications of this hypothesis, to theorize exactly how this otherness might have registered itself in visual terms (be they theatrical or cinematic);27 concentrating the necessary theoretical acumen to undertake such a project, however, could lead to productive new territories.

This paper has benefited immensely from the criticism and suggestions of the anonymous reviewers for CL, Nicholas Rennie, David Wellbery, and-especially-Walter Sokel.

2 Heilke continues: “News of the fire-in which the Tuileries were burned by the communards on May 25, 1871, but (unbeknownst to Nietzsche) the Louvre remained untouched-reached him while he was serving as a medical orderly in the Franco-Prussian war. It was during this time, he would write in 1886, that The Birth first was conceived and sketched. The possibility of a rabble summarily destroying a significant portion of the cultural heritage of the West made a deep impression on Nietzsche” (110).Julian Young glances to a different historical event-the founding of the Festival Theater in Bayreuth in 1872, the same year The Birth was published-as the touchstone for Nietzsche’s text (25).

English translations of Die Geburt der Tragodie and of Le Theatre et son double are from the editions cited at the end of this essay. Translations of other passages not originally in English are from editions also cited at the end, unless they are designated as my own. In parenthetical citations, the first number refers to the English translation and the second to the original. Where necessary, I have modified translations to make them more faithful to the original. All German citations of Nietzsche are from the 15-volume Kritische Studienausgabe.

I For some passing references to similarities between Artaud and Nietzsche see Esslin 80; Gouhier 179-89: Hayman; and La Chance 63-71. The only comprehensive comparison ofwhich I am aware is Camille Dumoulie’s Nietzsche et Artaud: Pour one ethique de la cruaute, which I treat more substantially below.

Young admits that his book, despite its title, “constitutes a kind of biography: not a biography in the usual sense but rather a philosophical biography, a record of the twists and turns taken by Nietzsche’s philosophy viewed through the prism of his philosophy of art” (2). This biography has `four main periods” and runs roughly thus: pessimistic, not-so-pessimistic, almost-optimistic, once-more– pessimistic (1). This approach, perhaps overly stagist in its diachrony, seems both to facilitate and force the hand of Young’s argument, which is more heavily invested in the question of when and whether Nietzsche’s philosophy is pessimistic or optimistic than in the question of what Nietzsche may have felt art could do and how it could do it. The “main purpose” of Young’s chapter on The Birth of Tragedy is, for example, to answer “this question”: “whether [Nietzsche] also endorsed Schopenhauer’s pessimism; whether, that is, he endorsed Schopenhauer’s inference from the pain and purposelessness of human existence to its worthlessness” (26).

“For an argument against labeling everything “political? see Denise Riley, who feels that what was formerly known as “political”-juridical and governmental power”-has been “dislocat[ed]” by the “social” to the point where problems such as poverty become “divorced from politics and assigned … to the social sphere” (51). For a useful discussion of “the abuse of `politics- in contemporary theoretical discourse, see Robbins.

7 One can hardly fail to recall the somewhat uncomfortable relationship between Nietzsche’s thought and that of Adorno and other members of the Frankfurt School (see, for example, Horkheimer and Adorno). However, Horkheimer and Adorno also acknowledge what one might term Nietzsche’s particular progressive potential or revolutionary moment. See especially the third chapter, “Juliette oder Aufklarung and Moral,” 88-127.

8 The context of this statement is a defense of absurdist anti-realism such as that found in the plays of Beckett. Alan Sinfield disagrees with Adorno on the transgressive nature of the theater of the absurd: “Absurdist theatre does not require that disaffection be pushed through to action; indeed, it implies that any attempt would be futile. The overall drift was complicit with existing societ” (184).

The Aesthetic Dimension was first published in German as Die Permanenz der Kunst: Wider eine bestimmte Marxistische Aesthetik (Munich: Carl I Janser Verlag, 1977). Marcuse translated the essay into English (with the help of Erica Sherover), revising it substantially in the process; I am quoting from the English preface here because I believe it offers a pithier phrasing of the issues at stake.

111 have de-italicized Strong’s italics in the first quote and italicized a portion of the second for emphasis. The passage from Nietzsche that Strong is citing here is found in the first paragraph of section 23 (135/1:145).

11 I have modified Miriam Chiaromonte s English translation here so that it corresponds more closely to Nicola Chiaromonte’s Italian.

11 1 am indebted to the work of John McClure, starting with his Late Imperial Romance (London: Verso, 1994), which informs my discussion here of the role of traditional religious models in Bahro’s Green politics.

111 add here, for consideration, the alpine retreat mentioned by Nietzsche in the “Versuch einer Selbstkritik” as the impetus behind Die Geburt der Tragodie (1:11), and the retreat from which Zarathustra famously emerges prior to embarking on his mission (IV: 11-12).

14 Nietzsche’s relationship to Socrates is, of course, much more nuanced in the context of his total oeuvre. For useful amplification, see Strong’s Friedrich Nietzsche, esp. 112-23, and his accompanying notes, which expound on the evolving treatment of this relationship in the scholarship on Nietzsche. For a differently grounded but certainly related examination of the twentieth-century stage’s war against mimesis, see Elin Diamond.

” Derrida does, however, come close to linking Artaud and Nietzsche in this manner, and within a debate over representation, in two lengthy notes to “La Parole soufflee Writing and Difference [L’ecriture et la difference], 326-27/276-78.

16 Monique Borie makes a case similar to Derrida’s regarding Artaud’s presence pure but labels it instead oralite veritable. See especially the chapter “Briser la maison des mots,” 56-63.

17 Derrida’s desire to keep the two terms apart can probably be traced back to Aristotle’s Politics, which relies on a similar separation. See also the first chapter of Habermas, which patiently troubles Aristotle’s divorcing of the terms.

18 Georges Bataille echoes Nietzsche’s view of theater’s close relation to historical life: “L’existence, c’est-i-dire la tragedie . . .” (“Existence, that is, tragedy.. .”; “Chronique nietzscbeenne” 482).

” See Artaud 233-51 for editor Paul Th&enids extensive notes on the composition, presentation, and publication history of individual chapters.

” To this list, Betting Knapp would add Eugene Ionesco, Arthur Adamov, Harold Pinter, and Gunter Grass (xiii), and Bernd Mattheus would add Albert Camus, Samuel Beckett, and Heiner Willer (230-31). Hayman offers an overview in Artaud and After. Gene A. Plunka’s edited book provides the most comprehensive look at Artaud’s wide-ranging influence. It should be noted, though, that the inclusion of Genet’s name on this list must not be taken uncritically. In his contribution to Plunka’s tome, Thomas Akstens maintains that “the question of the direct influence of Artaud on Genet remains problematical,- and he directs the reader to several discussions of the matter. See Akstens 181, note 11.

21 Nicholas Rennie has recently argued that Nietzsche follows an Enlightenment line of thought (Lessing’s in particular) in embodying historical trauma, projecting it through the body (186-96).

11 For further discussion of the exodus-model and its role in the political realm, see also the vitriolic debate between Walzer and Edward Said, whose review, “Michael Walzer’s Exodus and Revolution: A Canaanite Reading, points out that the promised land was not vacant when the Israelites arrived there and that a biblically sanctioned genocide attended their Exodus. Said blames the prevalence of “Exodus politics” (Walzer’s term) for the difficulties accompanying modern Zionism and “the Jewish presence in Palestine.” An exchange between Walzer and Said, equally inflammatory, was published soon after in the same journal (Said and Walzer, “An Exchange”). See as well Boyarin 40-67, and Walhout.

21 See also Mamarda;vili and Mattheus, who asks, in his introduction to a recent German translation of Artaud, “Suchte Artaud mit seinem Theaterprojekt ein kquivalent fur das, was in archaischen Gesellschaften Ritus, Kult, Schamanismus, Magic, das Fest warm and noch sind [Did Artaud seek, with his theater project, an equivalent to what were and still are, in ancient societies, ritual, cult, shamanism, magic, and the festival]?” (228).

14 Thanks to Lutz Koepnick for bringing this article to my attention.

25 Artaud, albeit during a time of troubled mental health, did, however, write in praise of fascist dictators. See Greene.

11 Serra’s stance is of course much rarer today than it was when Tracy Strong first crusaded against it in the first edition of Friedrich Nietzsche and the Politics of Transfiguration (1975): “Perhaps no opinion about Nietzsche has been so readily accepted,’ Strong wrote, “as the claim that he was ‘antipolitical.’ Throughout this book, however, I have claimed that Nietzsche’s understanding of contemporary times goes in fact in a ‘political’ direction (186).

17 Although I have begun tentatively trying, via a discussion of Marguerite Duras’s and Alain Resnais’s film, Hiroshima moon amour, in “The Predication of Violence, the Violence of Predication: Reconstructing Hiroshima with Duras and Resnais,’ Dialectical Anthropology 24 (1999), 387-406. See also Abunuwara.

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