Alain Badiou: Who is Nietzsche?


What is the true centre of Nietzsche’s thought? Or: what is it that Niet­z­sche calls “philo­sophy”?

I believe it is essen­tial to under­stand that, for Niet­z­sche, what he calls “philo­sophy” is not an inter­pret­a­tion, is not an ana­lys­is, is not a the­ory. When philo­sophy is inter­pret­a­tion, ana­lys­is, or the­ory, it is noth­ing but a vari­ant of reli­gion. It is dom­in­ated by the nihil­ist fig­ure of the priest. In The Anti­christ, Niet­z­sche declares that the philo­sopher is “the greatest of all crim­in­als.” We should take this declar­a­tion ser­i­ously.

Niet­z­sche is not a philo­sopher, he is an anti-philo­sopher. This expres­sion has a pre­cise mean­ing: Niet­z­sche opposes, to the spec­u­lat­ive nihil­ism of philo­sophy, the com­pletely affirm­at­ive neces­sity of an act. The role that Niet­z­sche assigns him­self is not that of adding a philo­sophy to oth­er philo­sophies. Instead, his role is to announce and pro­duce an act without pre­ced­ent, an act that will in fact des­troy philo­sophy.

To announce the act, but also to pro­duce it: this means that Niet­z­sche the anti-philo­sopher is lit­er­ally ahead of him­self. This is exactly what he says in the song from Thus Spake Zarathus­tra entitled: “Of the Vir­tue that Makes Small”. Zarathus­tra intro­duces him­self as his own pre­curs­or:

Among these people I am my own fore­run­ner, my own cock-crow through dark lanes.

Thus what comes in philo­sophy is what the philo­sopher bears wit­ness to. Or, more accur­ately: the philo­soph­ic­al act is what philo­sophy, which nev­er­the­less coin­cides with it, can only announce.

Straight away, we are at the heart of our exam­in­a­tion of Niet­z­sche. For his sin­gu­lar­ity is entirely con­tained in his con­cep­tion of the philo­soph­ic­al act. Or, to use his lan­guage, in his con­cep­tion of the power of philo­sophy. That is to say, of anti-philo­sophy.

In what do this act and this power con­sist?

It is by fail­ing to place this ques­tion at the threshold of any exam­in­a­tion of Niet­z­sche that both Deleuze and Heide­g­ger par­tially missed his abso­lute sin­gu­lar­ity, the one that ulti­mately both ful­fils and abol­ishes itself under the name of mad­ness.

Deleuze begins his book, Niet­z­sche and Philo­sophy, with this declar­a­tion: “Nietzsche’s most gen­er­al pro­ject is the intro­duc­tion of the con­cepts of sense and value into philo­sophy.” Now, I believe that the philo­soph­ic­al act accord­ing to Niet­z­sche does not take the form either of a pro­ject or of a pro­gram — rather, as in Sarah Kofman’s title, it could be called an explo­sion. Neither is it a ques­tion for Niet­z­sche — of intro­du­cing con­cepts. For the name of the philo­soph­ic­al event can be noth­ing oth­er than a fig­ure, and ulti­mately a prop­er name. The prop­er of the event deposes the com­mon of the con­cept. To do this, it sup­ports itself on the opa­city of the prop­er name. Nietzsche’s philo­soph­ic­al thought is given in a prim­or­di­al net­work of sev­en names: Christ, or the Cru­ci­fied, Dionysus-Ariad­ne, Saint Paul, Socrates, Wag­n­er, Zarathus­tra, and finally the most obscure of all the names, the name “Niet­z­sche”, which recapit­u­lates the oth­ers.

Of course, Deleuze is aware of these names, the mean­ing of which he inter­prets. One can, as he does with vir­tu­os­ity, read in these nom­in­al series the cod­ing of types of for­ce, ana­lyse them accord­ing to the grid of the act­ive and the react­ive. But in this case, the net­work of prop­er names is brought back to the com­mon­al­ity of sense, and Niet­z­sche is absorbed into the stream of inter­pret­a­tion. What is lost in Deleuze’s strong read­ing is this: it is through the opa­city of the prop­er name that Niet­z­sche con­structs his own cat­egory of truth. This is indeed what assigns the vital act to its non­sensic­al, or invalu­able, dimen­sion. Nietzsche’s last word is not sense, but the ine­v­alu­able.

The com­mon name of the supreme act, the one that puts an end to Chris­ti­an enslave­ment, is “the reversal of all val­ues,” or the trans­valu­ation of all val­ues. But the reversal of all vah­ws does not itself have a value. It is sub­trac­ted from eval­u­ation. Cer­tainly, it is life itself again­st noth­ing­ness, only that, as Niet­z­sche will say in The Twi­light of the Idols, and it is a decis­ive axiom:

The value of life can­not be estim­ated

To enter into Niet­z­sche, one must there­fore focus on the point where eval­u­ation, val­ues, and sense all come to fal­ter in the tri­al posed by the act. Thus where it is no longer a ques­tion of val­ues or of sense, but of what act­ively sur­passes them, what philo­sophy has always named

In my view this is what Heide­g­ger fails to grasp when he thinks that
Nietzsche’s pro­gram of thought is the insti­tu­tion of new val­ues. We know that Niet­z­sche ana­lyses the old val­ues as a tri­umph of the will to noth­ing­ness. They exist in vir­tue of a prin­ciple that for Niet­z­sche is the supreme prin­ciple, which is that man prefers to will the noth­ing, rather than not to will at all. For Heide­g­ger, Niet­z­sche, in revers­ing the old val­ues, in pro­pos­ing the noon of affirm­a­tion over again­st the will to noth­ing­ness, actu­ally intends to over­come nihil­ism. Now, Heide­g­ger will say that by so doing, by will­ing to over­come nihil­ism, Nietzsche’s thought sep­ar­ates itself from the very essence of nihil­ism, which is not in fact the will to noth­ing­ness. This is because for Heide­g­ger, if nihil­ism is the will to noth­ing­ness, it is then intel­li­gible in its essence on the basis of the fig­ure of the sub­ject. But in truth nihil­ism is not a fig­ure of the sub­ject; nihil­ism is the his­tory of the remain­ing-absent of being itself, as his­tori­al­ity. Nihil­ism is a his­tori­al fig­ure of being. It is this that comes to be con­cealed with­in a Niet­z­schean pro­gram of thought, which con­sists in the over­com­ing of nihil­ism. As Heide­g­ger will say: “The will to over­come nihil­ism [which he attrib­utes to Niet­z­sche] does not know itself, because it excludes itself from the evid­ence of the essence of nihil­ism, con­sidered as the his­tory of the remain­ing-absent and thus pro­hib­its itself from ever know­ing its own doing.”

ls Niet­z­sche really so ignor­ant of his own doing? We find ourselves brought back to the ques­tion of the act. We must begin by ask­ing if this Niet­z­schean doing rep­res­ents itself as an over­com­ing, in the meta­phys­ic­al form of the sub­ject. It seems to me that there is here, on Heidegger’s part, a cri­tique which Hegel­ian­ises Niet­z­sche before judging him. Because I believe that for Niet­z­sche the act is not an over­com­ing. The act is an event. And this event is an abso­lute break, whose obscure prop­er name is Niet­z­sche.

It is to this link between an act without con­cept or pro­gram and a prop­er name, a prop­er name that is his own only by chance, that one must refer the fam­ous title of one of the sec­tions of Ecce Homo: “Why I am a Des­tiny.” I am a des­tiny because, by chance, the prop­er name “Niet­z­sche” comes to link its opa­city to a break without pro­gram or con­cept.

I am strong enough to break up the his­tory of man­kind in two.
(Let­ter to Strind­berg of the 8th of Decem­ber 1888)

I con­ceive the philo­sopher as a ter­ri­fy­ing explos­ive that puts the entire world in danger. (Ecce Homo)

Nietzsche’s anti-philo­soph­ic­al act, of which he is at once the proph­et, the act­or, and the name, aims at noth­ing less than at break­ing the his­tory of
the world in two.

I would say that this act is archi-polit­ic­al, in that it intends to revolu­tion­ise the whole of human­ity at a more rad­ic­al level than that of the cal­cu­la­tions of polit­ics. Archi-polit­ic­al does not here des­ig­nate the tra­di­tion­al philo­soph­ic­al task of find­ing a found­a­tion for polit­ics. The logic, once again, is a logic of rivalry, and not a logic of found­a­tion­al emin­ence. It is the philo­soph­ic­al act itself that is an archi-polit­ic­al act, in the sense that its his­tor­ic­al explo­sion will ret­ro­act­ively show, in a cer­tain sense, that the polit­ic­al revolu­tion prop­er has not been genu­ine, or has not been authen­tic.

It fol­lows from this that in Niet­z­schean archi-polit­ics the word polit­ics is some­times reclaimed and val­id­ated, and some­times depre­ci­ated, in a char­ac­ter­ist­ic oscil­la­tion. In the draft of a let­ter to Brandes from Decem­ber 1888, Niet­z­sche writes:

We have just entered into great polit­ics, even into very great polit­ics… I am pre­par­ing an event which, in all like­li­hood, will break his­tory into two halves, to the point that one will need a new cal­en­dar, with I 888 as Year One.

Here Niet­z­sche pro­poses an imit­a­tion of the French revolu­tion. He assumes, as a fun­da­ment­al determ­in­a­tion of philo­sophy, the word “polit­ics”. Moreover, this imit­a­tion will go so far as to include images of the Ter­ror, which Niet­z­sche will adopt without the least hes­it­a­tion. Many texts bear wit­ness to this. Let us cite the note to Franz Over­be­ck from the 4th of Janu­ary 1889, where Niet­z­sche declares:

I am just hav­ing all anti-Semites shot …

On the oth­er hand, in the let­ter to Jean Bourdeau from the 17th of Decem­ber 1888, the word polit­ics is sub­jec­ted to cri­tique:

My works are rich with a decision with regard to which the bru­tal demon­stra­tions of cal­cu­la­tion in con­tem­por­ary polit­ics could prove to be noth­ing more than mere errors of cal­cu­lus.

And, in a draft let­ter to Wil­li­am II, Niet­z­sche writes this:

The con­cept of polit­ics has been com­pletely dis­solved in the war between spir­its, all power-images have been blown to bits, — there will be wars, like there have nev­er been before.

The Niet­z­schean anti-philo­soph­ic­al act, determ­ined as archi-polit­ic­al event, thinks the his­torico-polit­ic­al, some­times in the fig­ure of its broadened imit­a­tion, some­times in the fig­ure of its com­plete dis­sol­u­tion. It is pre­cisely this altern­at­ive that gives legit­im­acy to the act as archi-polit­ic­al.

If the act is archi-polit­ic­al then the philo­sopher is an over-philo­sopher. Let­ter to Von Seydlitz of Feb­ru­ary 1888:

It is not incon­ceiv­able that I am the first philo­sopher of the age, per­haps even a little more. Some­thing decis­ive and doom-laden stand­ing between two mil­len­nia.

Niet­z­sche is first of all the chance name of some­thing, some­thing like a fatal upris­ing, a fatal, archi-polit­ic­al upris­ing, which stands between two mil­len­nia. But what then are the means of such an act? What is its point of applic­a­tion? And finally, what is an anti-philo­soph­ic­al event that would be archi-polit­ic­al in char­ac­ter?

To address this prob­lem, we must exam­ine the Niet­z­schean cri­tique of the Revolu­tion, in its polit­ic­al sense. This cri­tique con­sists in say­ing that, essen­tially, the Revolu­tion did not take place. What we should under­stand by this is that it has not happened as revolu­tion, in the sense that archi-polit­ics con­ceives it. It has not taken place, because it has not truly broken the his­tory of the world in two, thus leav­ing the Chris­ti­an appar­at­us of the old val­ues intact. Moreover, the equal­ity to which the Revolu­tion lay claim was noth­ing more than social equal­ity, equal­ity as the idea of being the equal of another. And this equal­ity, in Nietzsche’s eyes, is always com­manded by res­sen­ti­ment.

In The Anti­christ we can read the fol­low­ing:

‘Equal­ity of souls before God’, this false­hood, this pre­text for the rancune of all the base-minded, this explos­ive con­cept which finally became revolu­tion, mod­ern idea and the prin­ciple of the decline of the entire social order – is Chris­ti­an dynam­ite.

It is not at all for Niet­z­sche a ques­tion of oppos­ing some sort of wis­dom to Chris­ti­an dynam­ite. The fight again­st Chris­tian­ity is a fight among­st artil­lery­men, or among­st ter­ror­ists. In Octo­ber 1 888, Niet­z­sche writes to Over­be­ck:

This time — as an old artil­lery­man — I bring out my heavy guns. I am afraid that I am blow­ing up the his­tory of man­kind into two halves.

Archi-polit­ics is thus the dis­cov­ery of a non-Chris­ti­an explos­ive.

Now, it is at this junc­ture that Niet­z­sche will have to pay with his per­son, for it is clear that he will apply him­self to the rad­ic­al impasse of any archi-polit­ics of this type. But he will apply him­self the more deeply and the more sin­cerely because he has defined archi-polit­ics not as a logic of found­a­tion, but as the rad­ic­al­ity of the act.

Here everything rests on Nietzsche’s con­cep­tion of the archi-polit­ic­al event, of the event in which anti-philo­sophy breaks the his­tory of the world in two.

At this point it must be said that this event does not suc­ceed in dis­tin­guish­ing itself from its own announce­ment, from its own declar­a­tion. What is declared philo­soph­ic­ally is such that the pos­sib­il­ity of its declar­a­tion alone proves that the his­tory of the world is broken in two. Why is this? Because the truth at work in the archi-polit­ic­al act is exactly what is pro­hib­ited, and pro­hib­i­tion is the Chris­ti­an law of the world. To pass bey­ond this pro­hib­i­tion, as the declar­a­tion attests, is enough to make one believe in an abso­lute rup­ture.

One day my philo­sophy will win, because until now no one has, in prin­ciple, pro­hib­ited any­thing but truth. (Ecce Homo)

But all of a sud­den, since what Niet­z­sche declares is also the event itself, he is caught, ever more mani­festly, in a circle. I poin­ted out, above, that Niet­z­sche says: “I pre­pare an event”. But 1he declar­a­tion con­cern­ing the pre­par­a­tion of an event becomes pro­gress­ively more indis­cern­ible from the event itself, whence an oscil­la­tion char­ac­ter­ist­ic of Niet­z­sche between immin­ence and dis­tance. The declar­a­tion will shat­ter the world, but that it is going to shat­ter it is pre­cisely what it declares:

Fore­see­ing that I will shortly have to address to human­ity the gravest chal­lenge that it has yet to receive, it seemed to me indis­pens­able to say who I am. (Ecce Homo)

This book belongs to the very few. Per­haps none of them is even liv­ing yet. (The Anti­christ)

On one side the rad­ic­al immin­ence that con­strains me, as the only liv­ing proof, to declare who I am. On the oth­er, a stance that leaves in sus­pense the ques­tion of know­ing wheth­er a wit­ness of this act has been born yet or not. I think that this circle is the circle of any archi-polit­ics what­so­ever. Since it does not have the event as its con­di­tion, since it grasps it — or claims to grasp it — in the act of thought itself, it can­not dis­crim­in­ate between its real­ity and its announce­ment. The very fig­ure of Zarathus­tra names this circle and gives the book its tone of strange unde­cid­ab­il­ity with regard to the ques­tion of know­ing wheth­er Zarathus­tra is a fig­ure of the effic­acy of the act or of its proph­ecy pure and sim­ple. The cent­ral epis­ode in this respect is the song entitled “On Great Events.” This song is a dia­logue between Zarathus­tra and the fire­dog. But who is the fire-dog? Rap­idly, it becomes clear that the fire-dog is noth­ing but the spokes­per­son, the agent, or the act­or of the revolu­tion­ary polit­ic­al event itself, of revolt, of the col­lect­ive storm. Let us read a pas­sage of the dia­logue with the fire-dog.

Zarathus­tra speaks:

“Freedom,” you all most like to bel­low: but I have unlearned belief in “great events” whenev­er there is much bel­low­ing and smoke about them. And believe me, friend Infernal-rack­et! The greatest events — they are not our nois­i­est but our stillest hours. The world revolves, not around the invent­ors of new noises, but around the invent­ors of new val­ues; it revolves inaud­ibly. And just con­fess! Little was ever found to have happened when your noise and smoke dis­persed. What did it mat­ter that a town had been mum­mi­fied and that a statue lay in the mud!

The oppos­i­tion here is between din and silence. The din is what attests extern­ally for the polit­ic­al event. The silence, the world preg­nant with silence, is instead the name of the unat­tested and unproved char­ac­ter of the archi-polit­ic­al event. The archi-polit­ic­al declar­a­tion mis­ses its real because the real of a declar­a­tion, of any declar­a­tion, is pre­cisely the event itself. Thus it is at the very point of this real, which he lacks and whose pres­ence and announce­ment he can­not sep­ar­ate, that Niet­z­sche will have to make him­self present. And it is this that will be called his mad­ness. Nietzsche’s mad­ness con­sists in this, that he must come to think of him­self as the cre­at­or of the same world in which he makes his silent declar­a­tion, and in which noth­ing proves the exist­ence of a break in two. That in some way he is on both sides; that he is the name, not only of what announces the event, not only the name of the rup­ture, but ulti­mately the name of the world itself.

The fourth of Janu­ary 1 889, Niet­z­sche situ­ates him­self as “Niet­z­sche”, as a name:

After [and this after is neces­sary] it has been averred as irre­voc­able that I have prop­erly speak­ing cre­ated the world.

A sin­cere archi-polit­ics madly unfolds the phant­asm of the world, because it is the pro­cess of the unde­cid­ab­il­ity between proph­ecy and the real. It mim­ics, in folly, the intrins­ic unde­cid­ab­il­ity of the event itself; it is this unde­cid­ab­il­ity turn­ing upon itself in the fig­ure of a sub­ject. Whence this har­row­ing declar­a­tion from the last let­ter, the let­ter to Jakob Burck­hardt of Janu­ary 6, 1 889, after which there is noth­ing more:

Actu­ally, I would much rather be a Basel pro­fess­or than God; but I have not ven­tured to carry my private egot­ism so far as to omit cre­at­ing the world on his account.

Yes indeed, this state­ment is a state­ment of mad­ness, but of mad­ness com­ing at the real point of a lack, when the announce­ment fails. This ordeal takes place in three stages: the ambi­tion of rad­ic­al rup­ture, of archi-polit­ics, is indeed that of cre­at­ing a world, of cre­at­ing the oth­er world, the world of affirm­a­tion, the world which in fact is no longer the world, or the man that is no longer man, and whose name is “over­man.” But to cre­ate this world, the every­man must also be seized by its cre­ation. Only this every­man can cer­ti­fy the appear­ance of the over­man. And what would have been pre­ferred, or prefer­able, is that the pro­fess­or, in Basel, be seized as such and tra­versed by this unat­tested event. But since this is not the case, since this legit­im­ate pref­er­ence is not veri­fied, the anti-philo­soph­ic­al hero is forced to declare that he will cre­ate this world. That he will cre­ate it, and not that he has been seized by its tri­umphal appear­ance. This world is thus a pro­gram, but one that ante­cedes itself. And so one is a cap­tive of the circle. And in the end to break this circle one needs the dis­in­ter­ested fic­tion of an integ­ral cre­ation, not only of a new world, but of the old world as well.

At this point, noth­ing but mad­ness.

Upon what does archi-polit­ics itself come to break? Upon the unavoid­able neces­sity of polit­ics. Of polit­ics, which demands patience. Which knows that it is point­less to announce the event. That one must think and act with chance, and in cir­cum­stances that one does not choose. Of a polit­ics which has had to renounce the idea of break­ing the his­tory of the world in two. A polit­ics that is con­tent — which is already a lot, and very dif­fi­cult — with being faith­ful to a few new pos­sib­il­it­ies.

Equally, anti-philo­sophy comes to break upon the per­man­ence, upon the res­ist­ance, of philo­sophy. Philo­sophy, which knows that its act, as, act of truth, does not have the power of abol­ish­ing the val­ues of the world. And that the labour of the neg­at­ive may not be dis­solved in the great Dionysi­an affirm­a­tion.

Is this to say that Nietzsche’s for­ce, his sin­cer­ity, his sac­ri­fice, are of no use? That the idea of an archi-polit­ics is a vain folly? I do not think so.

For there is in Niet­z­sche an extremely pre­cious indic­a­tion. An indic­a­tion con­cern­ing a decis­ive ques­tion for any philo­sophy what­so­ever. The ques­tion of the rela­tion­ship between sense and truth. On this ques­tion of sense and truth there are, I think, three prim­or­di­al stances. First, there is the stance that holds the idea of a rig­or­ous con­tinu­ity between truth and sense. I call this stance reli­gion. There is a stance that uni­lat­er­ally estab­lishes the suprem­acy of sense and attempts to des­troy the reli­gious stance. This is Nietzsche’s struggle. And finally there is the philo­soph­ic­al stance. It is in rup­ture with anti-philo­sophy because it both retains and devel­ops, by means of a ration­al cri­tique, the idea of truth. But it is also in rup­ture with reli­gion, because it refuses to identi­fy truth with sense; it even will­ingly declares that in any truth there is always some­thing of the non­sensic­al.

But what hap­pens his­tor­ic­ally is that the second stance, the anti-philo­soph­ic­al stance, is almost always what points the third stance, the philo­soph­ic­al stance, towards its own mod­ern­ity. Anti-philo­sophy puts philo­sophy on guard. It shows it the ruses of sense and the dog­mat­ic danger if truth. It teaches it that the rup­ture with reli­gion is nev­er defin­it­ive. That one must take up the task again. That truth must, once again and always, be sec­u­lar­ised.

Niet­z­sche was right to think that his prim­or­di­al task could be named the Anti­christ. He was right to call him­self the Anti­christ. And in his role as rad­ic­al anti-philo­sopher he poin­ted philo­sophy to the very place of its modem task. From Niet­z­sche, we need to retain what he des­ig­nated as the task of philo­sophy: to re-estab­lish the ques­tion of truth in its rup­ture with sense. Niet­z­sche puts us on guard again­st her­men­eut­ics.

There­fore, I believe that Niet­z­sche is someone that one must at once dis­cov­er, find, and lose. One must dis­cov­er him in his truth, dis­cov­er him in the desire of the act. One must find him, as he who pro­vokes the theme of truth towards a new demand, as he who forces the philo­soph­ic­al stance to invent a new fig­ure of truth, a new rup­ture with sense. And finally, of course, one must lose him, because anti­philo­sophy must, when all is said and done, be lost, or lost sight of, once philo­sophy has estab­lished its own space.

This dis­cov­ery, this find, this loss: I often feel them with regard to all of the century’s great anti-philo­soph­ers; with Niet­z­sche, with Wit­tgen­stein, and with Lacan. I think that all three — but Nietzsche’s case is without doubt the most dra­mat­ic — in the last instance sac­ri­ficed them­selves for philo­sophy. There is in anti-philo­sophy a move­ment of put­ting itself to death, or of silen­cing itself, so that some­thing imper­at­ive may be bequeathed to philo­sophy. Anti-philo­sophy is always what, at its very extremes, states the new duty of philo­sophy, or its new pos­sib­il­ity in the fig­ure of a new duty. I think of Nietzsche’s mad­ness, of Wittgenstein’s strange labyrinth, of Lacan’s final mute­ness. In all three cases anti-philo­sophy takes the form of a leg­acy. It bequeathes some­thing bey­ond itself to the very thing that it is fight­ing again­st. Philo­sophy is always the heir to anti-philo­sophy.

This is why I am so touched, in one of the last notes to Brandes, by this very Pas­cali­an phrase of Niet­z­sche, which imme­di­ately speaks to me of this sin­gu­lar and intric­ate rela­tion­ship to the great anti-philo­soph­ers of the cen­tury.

Once you dis­covered me, it was no great feat to find me: the dif­fi­culty is how to lose me…

And it is true that the great dif­fi­culty for us all, that which demands of us a cre­ation, is not to dis­cov­er and under­stand Niet­z­sche. The dif­fi­culty is to know, philo­soph­ic­ally, how to lose him.

Text copied without author­iz­a­tion from Niet­z­sche: Revenge and Praise (Pli: The War­wick Journ­al of Philo­sophy)