From Counterfeiting to Convalesence: An Essay on Nietzsche's Coinage
‘Better to remain in debt than to pay
with a coin that does not
bear our image!’ so our sovereignty wills.
~ Nietzsche, The Gay Science, Aph. 252
The term exergue derives from the Greek exergon and denotes “a small space usually on the reverse of a coin or medal, below the principle device” or equally, “an inscription on this space.”  We thus begin with an anecdotal inscription taken from the history of philosophy, which, although located outside of the fullness of the present εργον, marks our point of departure and sets the tone for the foregoing investigation.
According to ancient testimonia,  Diogenes of Sinope was the son of a money-changer named Tresius who managed a public bank. It is said, despite conflicting accounts, that Diogenes and his father, or possibly his father acting alone, were the subject of a scandal in which their native polis accused them of having defaced the local currency. This resulted in their subsequent banishment, forcing Diogenes to resettle in Athens where he would go on to become the pupil of Antisthenes, founder of the cynic school of philosophy. The relatively small amount of historical information also indicates that Diogenes consulted an oracle, possibly at Delphi or Delos, who sanctioned his adulteration of the coinage. It is thought that Diogenes misunderstood the oracular pronouncement since nomisma (νομισμα) signifies both ‘coinage’ as well as ‘custom.’
Alone, the ambiguity of the nomisma illuminates a contemporary social fact: coinage, indeed currency or money of any kind, is the immanent substance of political and social power, physically embodying a set of values common to a given economy. Coinage, as material custom handed down and used by the community, facilitates the possibility of exchange and secures the circulation of goods and services. Indeed coinage is the veritable intersection of axiological and material domains, and from this perspective the amphiboly of the nomisma (νομισμα) becomes comprehensible. It is also clear that coinage always relates to certain values and therefore to the active forces of power which instantiate and legitimate said values. The defacement of the nomisma appears not only as an act of negation, but also one of subversion and sedition.
Friedrich Nietzsche stands among the most important philosophers of the last few centuries to extensively elaborate the connection between value, power, and the material realm. Nietzsche’s penchant for the cynic school suggests that the story of Diogenes’ exile did not go unnoticed by his philological acumen. The iconoclast in Nietzsche was perhaps deeply influenced by the story of Diogenes, given the abundant references to coins and coinage in his writings. Many coin-images populate his works, from early unpublished lectures to the texts completed in the frenzied period of productivity before his collapse at Turin. The narrative sketch of Diogenes provides a foundation for a reading of Nietzsche’s texts that will focus on the myriad aspects of ‘coinage’ by first interrogating two strongly interconnected metaphors that Nietzsche deploys throughout his oeuvre: the image of coins whose inscription wears away over time due to prolonged circulation and the figure of a counterfeiter who surreptitiously exchanges false-coinage for power and control. In light of their shared thematic content, which will become evident along the way, I will show the connections these metaphors have with a third: that of convalescence, of recuperation from illness.
Much has already been written about Nietzsche’s use of metaphor.  I will thus not strive to offer a comprehensive doctrine of Nietzchean metaphoricity. Rather, in tracking down the relationship and development of specific tropes, I will instead illustrate how Nietzsche addressed the issues proper to the problem of coinage. On this basis I will, moreover, be able to capture Nietzsche’s ongoing struggle with the more fundamental problem of metaphysics. The evolution of these coin-related rhetorical devices reveals what is at stake in the transition from his early writings to his later, more mature position in the post-1878 works. The unique perspective that the later Nietzsche divulges to his readers becomes sharply distinguished whenever one juxtaposes the particular image of the counterfeiter with the aporetic figure of the convalescent. Although I have neither the means nor the intention to provide a totalizing theory of Nietzsche’s metaphors (assuming that this is even, in fact, possible), this investigation will nonetheless gesture toward the variegated functions that metaphor fulfills in his corpus. Such an indication reinforces Nietzsche’s emphasis on the importance of style, and beyond this, testifies to the unyielding hermeneutic resistance of Nietzsche’s texts to the authority of any one single discipline or methodology whether literary, philosophic, poetic, or philological.
Metaphor, Metaphysics and the Erosion of History
. . . les métaphysiciens, quand ils se font un langage, ressemblent à des rémouleurs qui passeraient, au lieu de couteaux et de ciseaux, des médailles et des monnaies à la meule, pour en effacer l'exergue, le millésime et l'effigie.
(. . . metaphysicians, when they make a language for themselves, are like knife-grinders, who instead of knives and scissors should put medals and coins to the grindstone to efface the exergue, the value and the head.)
~Anatole France, Le Jardin d’Epicure, 194
In his inaugural lecture to his professorship in Basel entitled Homer and Classical Philology, Nietzsche highlights an antagonism between two prevailing attitudes regarding the interpretation of classical texts. According to Nietzsche’s diagnosis, 19th century opinion found itself divided between, on one hand, those who sought to “consider antiquity from a scientific point of view,” that is modern philologists, and on the other, “the artistic friends of antiquity” who would cry out “that it is precisely the philologists themselves who are the real opponents and destroyers of the ideals of antiquity.”  Amidst this contentious atmosphere, Nietzsche proposes to his fellow colleagues that the true task of classical philology is to “bridg[e] over the gulf between the ideal antiquity—which is perhaps only the magnificent blossoming of the Teutonic longing for the south—and the real antiquity . . . [the] fusing of primarily hostile impulses that have only forcibly been brought together.” Nietzsche, therefore, claims, against those antiquarian historians who seek to simply preserve the idealism of the ancients, that “the most significant steps of classical philology never lead away from the ideal antiquity but to it; and that, just when people are speaking unwarrantably of the overthrow of sacred shrines, new and more worthy altars are being erected.”
What Nietzsche calls “the question of the personality of Homer” appears central to this conflict. The academic schism between the supporters of real and ideal antiquity manifests itself as a result of the destabilizing effect of historical science. Not unlike the subversive relationship of Marx’s historical materialism to the universalist economic claims of Smith and Ricardo, the practice of philology calls into question the traditional knowledge regarding Homer as an individual: “Was the person created out of a conception,” asks Nietzsche, “or the conception out of a person?” Thus in his careful exposition of the textual and anecdotal variables concerning this problem, Nietzsche makes use of an important metaphor, comparing the reception of Homer to that of "a coin (Münze) long passed from hand to hand" which, as a consequence, “has lost its original and highly conspicuous stamp.”
Nietzsche makes use of this particular image to express the dynamic effects of the historical transmission and reception of particular texts. Moreover it illustrates quite clearly how a particular view of history, furnished by the then burgeoning discipline of philology, problematizes the ability to make definite claims regarding the status of Homer’s idenitity. Nietzsche’s metaphor paints a particular picture of how the process of history takes place: a discreet moment occurs in the past, marking the ‘coin’ with a unique, legitimizing inscription. As time passes, as we move progressively further from the original moment of impression, the distinctive marks forming the image on the coin wear away due to constant use. This erasure eventually prevents access to the 'truth' of the origin that the inscription formerly exhibited. Nonetheless the coin still circulates and retains its authorized value. Value is therefore transformed insofar as the ground from which it emerges becomes dissimulated and closed off over the course of time. Likewise the Iliad and Odyssey still circulate today, in various material forms, extant and available for the scrutiny of aestheticians and philologists alike. Yet due to the multitude of physical modifications, omissions, and additions that these works have endured throughout the millennia, as well as to the vast distance which separates our time from that of their supposed production, we are unable to procure the conditions of their ‘origin,’ the initial ‘impression’ made upon the coin, so to speak. This inaccessibility prompts contemporary commentators to ‘re-inscribe’ the coin’s palimpsest according to the metaphysical trends of the current age. As moderns, we wish to think of Homer as an individual, an author, a subject with a discernible history. Philology puts into question the supposed facts of Homer’s individual life and subsequently the entire ‘ideal’ narrative in which it unfolds. Hence, with the advent of philology, the ‘personality of Homer’ comes to the fore as a problem meriting critical examination.
It is quite illuminating to juxtapose the historicism of classical philology to the practice of genealogy, a methodology that Nietzsche would go on to develop later in his career, most explicitly in an acerbic text known to English readers as The Genealogy of Morality. Rather than seeking to fully retrieve the presence of an Ursprung, genealogy is strategically used to investigate the heterogeneous dispersal, multiplicity, and alterity characteristic of historical emergences. According to Michel Foucault—who in the mid-70s implemented this method in his excavation of Western penal and juridical apparatuses—genealogy opposes “the meta-historic deployment of ideal significations and indefinite teleologies.” Discreet centers with which we construct the typical narratives of history are revealed to be mere simulacra. Genealogy exposes all seemingly unified casual agents (‘consciousness,’ ‘historical origins’) as fluctuating conglomerations of unseen, forgotten, and often infinitesimal components. Turning to the past to carefully and patiently chart the play of forces and the manifold interaction of bodies, genealogy unveils the various overturnings and reversals that actually constitute an ‘ideal’ or ‘metaphysical’ representation of history. Beneath the patina of simple historical origins, the genealogist discovers “something completely other (tout autre): not their essential and timeless secret, but instead the secret that they are without essence, or that their essence was constructed piece by piece from out elements that were foreign to them (à partir de figures qui leur étaient étrangères).”
In his Basel lecture, Nietzsche argues that Homer “is not a historical tradition but an aesthetic judgment.” This means that the supposed individuality or singularity of Homer’s persona does not find adequate support from the raw material of history. Those commentators who ascribe a particular authorial source, an idealized representation of the ‘man’ Homer to these epic poems do so in conformation to a particular cultural tendency: “Since literary history first ceased to be a mere collection of names, people have attempted to grasp and formulate the individualities of the poets. A certain mechanism forms part of the method: it must be explained, it must be deduced from principles . . . .” An examination of the aesthetic features of a work like the Iliad, corroborated moreover with evidence from the long history of its transmission, fails to confirm the trace of the individual author espoused by the idealist view of the later Greeks. Rather a more nuanced alternative is required: “We believe in a great poet as the author of the Iliad and the Odyssey—but not that Homer was this poet.” Thus, there indeed may have been an author, but not one which matches the idealized representation traditionally attributed to him, nor one which would fit neatly into the typical historical narrative in which the idealized ‘Homer’ conventionally finds a home.
Nietzsche sides almost exclusively with the conclusions of historical philology, which is to be expected given his audience and his newly elected academic position. It thus seems somewhat strange, in this regard, that he utilizes the metaphor of a coin passing from hand to hand whose inscription slowly erodes away due to historical abrasion. Ironically, this particular image itself evokes a metaphysical concept of history: it is a way of constructing history that condenses and reduces the multiplicity of historical material into an idealized representation. The image of a coin being stamped implies a singular, unitary, and simple concept of origin. The instance of inscription suggests a discreet moment, a metaphysical event par excellence in which truth 'happens' and from which the currents of history will henceforth issue. This simplified, linearized model of history, consisting of atom-like events strung together in a seemingly infinite chain, runs the risk of being co-opted by teleological or eschatological interpretations insofar as it exhibits a genetic structure determined by the interconnected logic of casual succession.
It would be unproductive to conclude, given this particular choice of metaphor and the view of history it might suggest, that the young Nietzsche must be labeled ‘metaphysical,’ when compared to the later, more mature ‘post-metaphysical’ Nietzsche of the free spirit series and onward. Such a position falls into the same historical metaphysics that the ‘hand-to-hand’ metaphor itself suggests. Such a claim carelessly partitions the occurrences and elements of Nietzsche’s life, organizing them by way of a tidy and unproblematic reduction.
Rather, I argue for the development of a more refined position regarding Nietzsche’s rapport with metaphysics at this point in his life. Beyond the presence of a metaphor (whose importance will become clearer in the following exposition) that evokes a historicism contradictory to the espoused intentions of philology, Nietzsche appears to hesitate in this lecture between the two distinct positions. Though he more or less endorses the destruction of the ideal tradition brought on by philology, he nonetheless maintains that, through this very disintegration of ideality, “new and more worthy altars are being erected.” Such a claim is surprising and indeed somewhat paradoxical coming from a philosopher who would much later declare that his work had no intention of “setting up new idols.” Moreover, the concluding remarks of Homer and Classical Philology contain a “confession of faith” which reverses a formulation of Seneca: “Philosophia fact est quae philologia fuit.” Following this inverted maxim, all philological activities, Nietzsche states, “should be enclosed and surrounded by a philosophical view of things.” Nietzsche exhorts us to have faith in philosophy, yet this begs the question of which philosophy will come to perform this function. Does philology perform the double function of offering a more rigorous vision of history as well as providing the philosophical methodology that secures its foundation? It is on this point that Nietzsche might be accused of letting certain unexamined suppositions smuggle themselves into his historical thinking. Indeed, Nietzsche’s early coin metaphors manifest the symptoms of contamination by a certain species of Kantianism.
However, acknowledging his susceptibility to a particular brand of historicism does not amount to promulgating that this younger Nietzsche was completely complicit with metaphysics. Despite lacking a clearly formulated genealogical method, these texts demonstrate a propensity in Nietzsche's thought for calling into question the orthodox beliefs and principles that underpinned the operative paradigms of his time. In hinting at the possibility in this lecture that the problem of Homer is a strictly modern affaire and that the legacy of ‘Homer’ might indeed be nothing but pure receptivity, Nietzsche unintentionally compels us to notice that the rigorous honesty and skepticism of philology shares a strong affinity, if not an affiliation, with the genealogical techniques that he would develop much later in the course of his thinking.
Metaphor, Metaphysics, and the Oblivion of Language
Pourquoi suis-je si belle? Parce que mon maître me lave.
(Why am I so beautiful? Because my master washes me.)
~Paul Eluard, La capital de la douleur, 78
Nietzsche again employs the image of a coin passing from hand to hand in an early essay entitled On Truth and Lying in a Non-Moral Sense:
What then is truth? A mobile army of metaphors, metonymies, anthropomorphisms, in short a sum of human relations which have been subject to poetic and rhetorical intensification, translation and decoration, and which, after they have been in use for a long time, strike people as firmly established, canonical and binding; truths are illusions of which we have forgotten that they are illusions, metaphors which have become worn by frequent use and have lost all sensuous vigor, coins which, having lost their stamp, are now regarded as metal and no longer as coins. 
Nietzsche emphasizes the experiential ground that underlies the conventional idea of 'truth.' The whole of our linguistic activity, he argues, including the discourses that make up our conceptual systems and scientific paradigms, derive from an anthropomorphic reaction to an originary, primordial exposure to the world. Over time, however, humanity forgets these tumultuous beginnings. The "mobile army" of signs and tropes hardens, crystallizing into an immutable façade that we henceforth regard as the ‘true world’. Our language, in working through a continual movement of generalizing abstraction, covers over and closes off our initial experience which, according to Nietzsche, appears as "a primitive world of metaphor [that] flow[s] in a hot liquid stream from the primal power of the human imagination." Like the illusory Ursprung of historical metaphysics that genealogy seeks to subvert, the individual instance wherein the human being creatively responds to "nervous stimul[i]" corresponds metaphorically to the original, authenticating inscription of the coin. Its process of wearing away represents the assimilation of such linguistic acts into conceptual and scientific categories, their inevitable generalization born from the need for consensus and communicability, in what Foucault calls the "long baking process of history (la longue cuisson de l’histoire)."3 We rely on the truth of language and we put faith into its verification capacity. It comes to form the foundation for our various epistemic systems yet bereft of the unique character that produced it, just like old coins still in circulation yet lacking individual inscriptions. Quotidian language never designates the ‘experience-in-itself,’ but rather a leveled down idealization that betrays the singularity of our lived encounter with the world.
Again, this particular ‘hand-to-hand’ metaphor suggests a certain metaphysical framework subtends Nietzsche view of language vis-à-vis lived experienced. Despite disclosing the individual creative acts that undergird the convention of 'truth,' the original ‘experience’ remains epistemologically inaccessible, since language, essentially falsifying and distorting, never captures the singularity of individual perception, failing to fully articulate the richness of haecceity as a consequence of its generalizing, abstracting nature. Although in a different light, this recapitulates the basic tenets of Kant's noumenal/phenomenal dualism, with the Ding an sich shut out from language and therefore knowledge, an obstruction that furnishes only the possibility of knowing the a priori transcendental conditions of experience itself. This Kantianism, in virtue of the tradition in which it is situated, presupposes a unitary, stable ‘subject’ which possesses a unique, yet always unsayable perspective.
Beyond his susceptibility to Kantianism seen here, Nietzsche also tacitly delineates between two distinct species of metaphor. The first variety finds itself closer to the ‘origin,’ flowing from the “primal power of the human imagination.” The second type appears as the dead, empty metaphor which, in combining with others, makes up the architecture of our conceptual systems. The second order metaphors are indeed the result of a certain forgetting (Vergesslicheit). They represent a forgetful departure from the initial proximity of the plenitude of lived experience that initially characterized the first order metaphors. This detrimental forgetting has spun out of control, precipitating a chain reaction that continually distances us from the ‘truth’ of lived experience. Language develops in a succession of forgetful instances, each one furthering the leveling down process initiated by the first. Thus names grow into concepts and concepts in turn become the hollow discursive building blocks of our philosophical and scientific systems. Nietzsche describes such edifices as “burial sites of perception” which “tower up to vast heights” in order to “fit into [themselves], in an orderly way, the whole empirical world.” The real world of perceptions is substituted by an artificial, anthropomorphic world, crafted out of man’s drive to stabilize society. This supersensory world of concepts crafted out of human activity closes off the original, sensory world in which humans dwell. Language appears permeated with loss and is grounded only by the oblivion of ground itself. This is precisely what the title of Nietzsche’s essay indicates: “truth,” produced by forgetting, is in fact a “lie.” This troubling formula plays on the distinction between the value of truth and the concept of truth. Thus truth tends toward the loss of its own meaning giving capacity to the extent that it deracinates itself from living, experienced reality. Nonetheless, truth still fulfills its social function. It still circulates, like worn down coins, being the very yoke of the social field. Given all this, the metaphoricity of language, in setting into motion a cumulative sequence of forgetting, is responsible for language’s metaphysical constitution. Metaphor operates as the very force which substitutes one entity (intuition, experience) for another. It is only when the historical or temporal interval of this substitution remains relatively short, when the proximity of substituting act with substituted content remains discernable, that language does not run the risk of undergoing a metamorphosis that transforms its living fullness into the conceptual sepulchers of science and philosophy. Language, in the former case, would remain metaphysical, but it would also harbor a certain transparency with respect to itself. I will return to this point when it becomes appropriate to tease out its various implications.
In continuing to follow the traces of these metaphors in relation to the problem of metaphysics, a noticeable transition takes place within Nietzsche’s oeuvre. The image of a coin passing from hand-to-hand disappears—however, the implement of coinage and currency metaphors remain, as in the preface to Human, All Too Human, added in 1886:
What I again and again needed most for my cure and self-restoration, however was the belief that I was not thus isolated, not alone in seeing as I did—an enchanted surmising of relatedness and identity in eye and desires, a reposing in a trust of friendship, a blindness in concert with another without suspicion or question marks, a pleasure in foregrounds, surfaces, things close and closest, in everything possessing color, skin and appartionality. Perhaps in this regard I might be reproached with having employed a certain amount of 'art,' a certain amount of false coinage (Falschmünzerei): for example I knowingly willfully closed my eyes before Schopenhauer's blind will to morality at a time when I was already sufficiently clear-sighted about morality; likewise that I deceived myself over Richard Wagner's incurable romanticism . . . .
Here Nietzsche glances meditatively back upon his decisive relationships, namely with Richard Wagner and the pessimistic philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer. He also admits of a former entanglement with the footfalls of metaphysical thinking. It stands to reason that the use of the hand-to-hand metaphor is one of the possible symptoms of metaphysics to which he is alluding in the abovementioned citation. Again, although I would not endorse an interpretation which would stipulate the early Nietzsche as wholly “metaphysical” as opposed to the later “post-metaphysical” Nietzsche, it is nonetheless clear from this added preface that certain metaphysical tendencies influenced his early philosophical production, especially during the span of his professorship at Basel. The disappearance of the hand-to-hand metaphor might be one possible sign that he indeed undertook a reevaluation of his presuppositions, namely those that informed his understanding of history. Along other lines, this critical self-revaluation is quite apparent in the disposition that Nietzsche evinces in all of the added prefaces of 1886.
As noted above, Falschmünzerei literally means 'false coinage.' The related Falschmünzer translates as ‘false-coiner,’ or more colloquially, as ‘counterfeiter.’ Nietzsche also preserves a reference to coinage and counterfeiting by way of the term Schein, such as in Scheintugunden. The rapport of this fairly common German word with coins and coinage is less evident. Broadly construed, Schein signifies an appearance, a glimmer or even a luminous reflectivity. Early monetary systems consisted primarily of coins, usually lustrous metals which reflected light easily and typically bore the image of the local sovereign or patron deity. This linguistic hold-over from ancient and medieval times exists in other Indo-European languages, notably in the French argent which names the chemical element typically known as silver. This term, however, has come to idiomatically indicate money of any kind, whether metallic, paper, or virtual. This seems to also be the case in High-German insofar as Schein denotes banking or monetary transactions, meaning often a bill, a promissory note, or a receipt.
This enduring connection to coins, to the amphibolous nature of the nomisma, as well as the transformation of its rhetorical deployment, coincides with a recognized turning point in Nietzsche’s thought. I shall show how in ceasing to use the hand-to-hand metaphor Nietzsche begins to speak of coins in different way. However, I must first provide a preliminary elucidation of the figure of the Falschmünzer.
From Evangel to Dysangel: The Exchange of a Counterfeit History
[Paul] is the first Christian, the inventor of Christianness! Before him there were only a few Jewish sectarians.
~Nietzsche, Daybreak, Aph. 66
There are many figures that Nietzsche indicts as false-coiners. Wagner and Schopenhauer are among the most harshly reprimanded. In speaking of Wagner, Nietzsche espouses, "Great men, as they are honored, are minor pieces of bad literature invented after the fact—In the world [of] historical values, false coinage (Falschmünzerei) rules." Nietzsche does not spare Schopenhauer any less castigation, calling his interpretative methods "the greatest psychological counterfeit (die grösste psychologische Falschmünzerei) in history.”
For Nietzsche, Saint Paul stands above all as the ultimate false-coiner. The Anti-Christ proffers a scathing polemic of the priestly type who throughout history appears under the guise of the revolutionary zealot, the theologian, or the moral philosopher. These individuals have, according to Nietzsche’s diagnosis, a highly sinister vocation: “this [priestly] type of person has a life interest in making humanity sick and twisting the concepts of ‘good’ and ‘evil,’ ‘true’ and ‘false’ to the point where they endanger life and slander the world.” The event of Christianity marked an overturning of classical values, a coup of morality wherein all that was formerly regarded as ‘good’ (strength, health, power) becomes ‘evil,’ and, conversely, everything previously held to be base (weakness, impotence, sickness) is elevated to the rank of ‘good.’ This is what Nietzsche has called elsewhere the “slave rebellion in morality.” Furthermore, the priestly type codifies and hence legitimates this new moral order by way of a falsification of history, a “counterfeiting of words and gestures (diese Wort- und Gebärden-Falschmünzerei),” whose institutionalization is preserved by the ‘revealed’ writings of the New Testament. This manipulation of history, beyond its disingenuous representation of early Christianity’s moral and political intentions, occludes the real truth regarding the life of Jesus, converting the evangel of Christ into the dysangel of Christianity. Nietzsche thus appeals to the philologist and genealogist in each of us, purporting that Paul “invented for himself a history of the first Christianity. Even more he falsified the history of Israel once again, to make it look like the prehistory of his own actions: all the prophets have [supposedly] talked about his ‘redeemer’. . . .”
Before turning to Nietzsche’s particular view of ‘the redeemer,’ it is necessary to first examine the metaphysical sleight of hand undertaken by Saint Paul and fellow cohorts, notably the authors of the Gospel. The theological changes undertaken between Judiasm and Christianity are indicative of this reconfiguration of power. Nietzsche thus alleges that morality proper to the priestly type inaugurates an “anti-natural castration of God into a God of pure goodness." In healthy cultures still possessing a strong will, gods epitomize "the conditions which brought [them] to the fore, [their] virtues." For example, one might recall the sexual promiscuity of Zeus or the Old Testament wrath of Yahweh. However, whenever the will declines, whenever the corrosive values of nihilism prevail and their advocates gain political and moral traction, God becomes 'good' in the Christian sense. "In the end," proclaims Nietzsche, "gods have no other choice, either they are the will to power—in which case they will still be the god of a people—or they are powerless in the face of power—and then they will necessarily become good.” The idea of God thus becomes simply a convention, stripped of its original relation to humanity's will. Furthermore, God ceases to be a source of insight in regard to the particular culture from which it emerges and therefore ceases to contribute to its preservation or growth. God no longer reflects the self-affirming vitality of what is noble but rather the impotent emptiness of the base, the reactivity of the slave. Such an institutionalization of decadence veils God's original ‘source’ insofar as it effaces the former transparency between the human will and the ‘divine’ sphere. The priestly type indeed wills; however, this willing covers over its own source in order to secure a successful rise to power. Moreover, this will comes directly out of a feeling of ressentiment,a negative, vengeful reaction towards all life-affirming values. It thus follows that Nietzsche calls Paul a "hatred inspired counterfeiter (Falschmünzer)."
At this point, the counterfeiting metaphor proceeds a step further. Counterfeiting produces values which appear to be authentic. This activity thus permits the counterfeiter to gain something through an economic exchange. The false-coiner goes to the marketplace and, with his or her counterfeit currency, is able to purchase goods and services. This insidious transaction dupes the merchant whereas the counterfeiter benefits without personal loss. So what benefit did Paul reap from his own false coinage when he went to the grand bazaar of the European gentiles? Nietzsche furnishes a direct response: “What he needed was power; with Paul, the priests wanted to return to power—he could only use ideas, doctrines, and symbols that would tyrannize the masses and form herds.” Paul’s apostolic mission, which established the first congregations, exchanges an apocryphal history for spiritual and ideological control of masses. This development appears to be linked essentially to the formation of the institution of Christianity, since Nietzsche believed that the formation of large-scale institutions normally marks a closure which cuts off a people, a culture, or a community from its own capacity to realize the efficacy of its will. The perfidious political takeover of Christianity that Paul ensconced would end up contributing to the fall of Rome, a society which, in Nietzsche’s opinion, embodied an apogee of classical virtue. Moreover, this distortion of history, brought on by Paul’s followers (the authors of the Gospels), serves not only to reinforce institutional control, but also to draw our concern further and further away from the reality of history and therefore from what is really at stake in the question of the historical Christ.
Clearly Nietzsche directs his genealogical polemic at the institution of Christianity and consequently at those who thoughtlessly identify themselves as ‘Christians.’ He does not however, aim these attacks at Christ himself. Amid the darkness of the Gospels, Nietzsche discerns the faint flicker of the “psychological type of the redeemer.” According to the Nietzsche’s ‘hand-to-hand’ metaphor, the ‘inscription’ of this particular ‘coin’ has been worn away, obscured by the historical mendacity requisite for herd formation. Nietzsche nonetheless ventures a formulation of this elusive individual:
[Jesus] knew how the practice of life is the only thing that can make you feel ‘divine,’ ‘blessed,’ ‘evangelic,’ like a ‘child of God’ at all times. ‘Atonement’ and ‘praying for forgiveness’ are not the way to God: only the evangelical practice leads to God, in fact it is ‘God’—What the evangel did away with was the Judaism of the concepts of ‘sin,’ ‘forgiveness of sin,’ ‘faith,’ ‘redemption through faith’—the whole Jewish church doctrine was rejected in the ‘glad tidings.’
Nietzsche’s bold thesis amounts to opposing a genealogically ascertained portrait of Jesus to the one typically offered by the doctrines of the Church. The Nazarene endeavored to incite a revolution of peace that would celebrate and affirm life in the present. It had little or nothing to do with a ‘kingdom of heaven’ promised after death, situated in a wholly inaccessible beyond. Unfortunately, those who followed ended up marshaling Christ’s legacy for a diametrically opposed set of goals, namely the proliferation of sickness, the aggrandizement of nihilistic virtues, and the sedimentation of a specious narrative within world historical consciousness.
Counterfeiting and Transparency
Oh if the poets would only be again what were once supposed to have been:—seers who tell us something of the possible! Now that actuality and the past are and have to be taken more and more out of their hands—for the age of harmless false-coinage (Falschmünzerei) is at an end!
~Nietzsche, Daybreak, Aph. 551
I can now formulate a more programmatic definition by which the figure of the counterfeiter might be understood. The Falschmünzer is not only one who wills, but also as one whose willing dissimulates his or her own source. Hence this self-concealing will eradicates the possibility of transparency between the act of willing and its content. Secondly, this deleterious will wills nothing, it wills the hinterworld, what finds itself beyond this life, produced therefore through a subsequent negation of life. By way of this metaphysical instantiation, the priestly type becomes the sole guarantor of access or communication with this other-worldly realm. Nietzsche hints at this particular aspect of the counterfeiter in Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Early on, Zarathustra encounters a Saint while descending the mountain to the village below. The Saint, seeing Zarathustra’s down-going, advises him to “give [the townspeople] nothing (Nichts)" upon his arrival. Here the Saint is quite obviously aware of the negative constitution of metaphysics. With this realization also comes the knowledge of the powerful benefits one gains by concealing its human source. Zarathustra seeks a quick escape from this manipulative decadent, wanting to “take nothing (Nichts) from [him].” The Saint, like Paul, needs the double negativity of the self-concealing will to metaphysics in order to preserve the institutional apparatus and thereby his own position of power. It is for this reason that he entreats Zarathustra to proliferate such negativity among the townspeople living at the foot of the mountain. Zarathustra leaves, not wanting to disrupt the nihilistic activity of the Saint, not wanting to take his very precious and useful nothing from him, even though this miserable hinterworldsman has yet to hear the news about the death of God.
Indeed, there exists a correlation between self-concealment of this will and the nullity of its content. Such willing succeeds in forming herds and exalts the priest to a position of power by hiding the fact that such negative values have a definitively human source. They must, in the eyes of the congregation, originate from a divine wellspring in order to promote and sustain life-negating instincts. Deleuze, in his monumental Nietzsche et la philosophie, restates this formulation when he writes, “The slave must have premises of reaction and negation, of ressentiment and nihilism, in order to obtain an apparently positive conclusion.” In clarifying how the slave fabricates illusory counterfeits, Deleuze confirms the requisite double negativity seen in the case of Paul: “[the Slave] needs two negations in order to produce an appearance of affirmation.”
I noted earlier that the original image of a coin passing from hand-to-hand implied a metaphysical concept of history. From approximately the time of Human, All Too Human onward, Nietzsche begins to employ the metaphor in critical fashion: the false coiner designates those power-hungry slaves who hide the fact that their supposedly divine and ‘revealed’ metaphysical systems emerge from human sources. It is reasonable to ask, given the structure of counterfeit coinage heretofore examined, what authentic coinage would actually entail? Taking the definition of the counterfeiter as a jumping off point, authentic coinage would logically maintain the transparency between the willing act and the values willed, never lapsing into forgetfulness or concealment. This requires a perpetual maintenance of the tension between the active will and the values it engenders, a tension that would disintegrate with the decline of the will, its exhaustion or loss of efficacy. Such virtues would need to possess a sort of reflexivity, having their own source somehow inscribed within or upon them. Again, to make recourse to Nietzsche’s naively metaphysical metaphor, such coinage would constantly resist the historical forces of erosion that wear away at the coin’s inscription. In socio-political terms, this means such virtues would ceaselessly stave off the metaphysical forces of large-scale institutionalization as they are commonly understood, and, as a principal of institution formation (as is more commonly the case with the virtues of a given community), they would persistently require a struggle for honesty that, in always holding themselves open, would remain perpetually transparent in respect to themselves as well as to the institution in question.
A maxim in the Twilight of the Idols highlights the necessarily tense and active character of such virtues: "To enter into only those situations where you cannot have any counterfeit virtues (Scheintugenden), where instead, like the tightrope walker (Seiltänzer) on his tightrope, you either fall down or remain standing—or come away. . . ." The image of the tightrope walker, or, more literally, 'rope dancer,’ invokes perfectly the tension between the human will and its corresponding values that ‘authentic’ coinage requires. This tension, a veritable cognizance of distance, continually demands the concentration and fortitude of a tightrope walker, never slackening for fear of plummeting to one's doom below.
Another statement, found in the same section, deepens the interpretation of the above mentioned fragment: "I distrust all systematizers and avoid them. A will to a system is a lack of integrity." To distrust, to be distrustful, establishes a critical distance with regard to the metaphysical systems and the values of which they are composed. Those who systematize give themselves over to the standing institutions, abolishing the possibility of transparency or apprehension from afar. Hence the tightrope walker must trust neither the rope itself nor the spectators below to come to his aid. Rather he must trust himself, his strength, his virtue. As seen above, those who systematize, institution builders par excellence, necessarily prey upon the weak, utilizing the instincts of those who are unable themselves to effectively will. This is possible, Nietzsche informs us, because "whoever doesn't know how to put his will into things can at least put meaning into them." Returning to the elaboration of the figure of the counterfeiter, it is possible to now decipher the true meaning of the Pauline emphasis on faith: the dysangelist requires an unreflective commitment that permits the congregation to dissolve itself into totality, placing into the institution of the Cross ‘meaning’ but never will. The construction of an institution such as Christianity not only requires a double dissimulation, but moreover demands a disintegration of the will with respect to the source of values that it upholds. The mechanism of faith, within Nietzsche’s genealogical reading of Paul, produces the metaphysical closure of the institution. This pernicious aspect of institutional metaphysics prompts Nietzsche to write: “Christianity possesses the hunter’s instinct for all those who can by one means or another be brought to despair—of which only a portion of mankind is capable. It is constantly on their track, it lies in wait for them.”
In contrast, distrust, the first counter-movement to metaphysical institutionalism, sees all virtues initially as counterfeit. Indeed it is the attitude of distrust, which commences by throwing everything into doubt, through which authentic coinage becomes a concrete possibility. Certainly for this reason Nietzsche remarks that "[g]reat spirits are skeptics," for they possess a certain predilection for employing a revealingly distrustful circumspection. Moreover, this Nietzschean wariness, stemming from his philological upbringing, opens up the possibility of reading his texts in proto-phenomenological ways. The fact that Nietzsche’s own virtues necessarily proceed from a fundamental skepticism attests to an operation similar to the epoche (ἐποχή), to the extent that, in attending to the depth of any given phenomenon, a propaedeutic suspension of the doxa (δόξα), or in this case a distrust of the nomisma (νομισμα), becomes a necessity.
Convalescence and The Great Health: How One is to Make Heads or Tails of the Overcoming of Metaphysics
L’idée de salut, je crois, vient à celui que désagrège la souffrance. Celui qui la domine au contraire, a besoin d’être brisé, de s’engager dans la déchirure.
(The idea of health, I believe, comes to the one that suffering dissolves. The one who dominates suffering, on the contrary, needs to be broken, to tear oneself apart.)
~ Georges Bataille, L’Expérience intérieure, 56
I have illustrated how the value of distrust, with its proto-phenomenological orientation, carves out a particular space in which authentic, non-counterfeit virtues become possible. These virtues maintain transparency with respect to themselves in occasioning an unceasing reflexive gesture that holds open their source, inscribing their own emergence into the very substance of their visibility. Many of Nietzsche’s well known virtues apropos to this particular formalization could be cited: modesty, cheerfulness, or contempt come to mind immediately. The theme of convalescence (Genesung), however, provides an instructive example which gathers and renders coherent many of the other important motifs already touched upon: those of metaphor, language, inscription, institutionalism, history, and above all, metaphysics.
Unlike the virtue of modesty or cheerfulness, the meaning of convalescence in Nietzsche’s text consistently relies on a physiological metaphor. In Ecce Homo, Nietzsche provides a clue, writing that after nutrition, climate and location, “the third thing that you should not get wrong is the choice of your mode of recuperation.” Here Nietzsche offers an autobiographical glimpse into how this notionactually puts itself into play on a daily basis. “In my case,” he continues, “reading as whole is a way of recuperating: accordingly, it is one of the things that lets me detach from myself and walk among foreign disciplines and souls. . . .” In the preface to The Twilight of the Idols, he intimates yet another possibility: “Another form of convalescence, which I sometimes even prefer, is sounding out idols . . . The world has more idols than realities.”
Although it is well known that Nietzsche suffered from numerous debilitating maladies throughout his life, the illness from which he speaks of recovering is not a physical one. The theme of convalescence concerns, on the contrary, the problem of metaphysics. The metaphorical complex of health, sickness, and recovery thus signify various aspects of the problem of metaphysics and consequently the possibility of its paradoxical transgression.
Nietzsche makes this connection most explicit in Thus Spoke Zarathustra. At a crucial moment in Book Three, after returning home to his cave, Zarathustra braves a confrontation with the thought of the eternal recurrence, screaming to the fright of nearby creatures: “I, Zarathustra, advocate of life, the advocate of suffering, the advocate of the circle,—you I summon, my most abysmal thought!” He then collapses, and for a period of seven days, his eagle and his serpent nurse him back to health. Zarathustra’s animals then entreat him to leave his cave and go out into the world where “the wind is playing with heady fragrances that make their way to you and all brooks want to run after you.”
Zarathustra then begins to speak of the terrifying revelation he had just experienced. “Alas,” laments Zarathustra, “human beings recur eternally! The small human beings recur eternally!” He then shudders with nausea, trembling in recollection of his former “sickness.” But his vigilant animals do not let him lapse back into his previous condition:
Speak no more, you convalescent!’—answered his animals. ‘Rather go outside where the world awaits you like a garden. Go outside to the roses and bees and swarms of doves! Especially to the song birds, so that you can learn to sing from them! Singing after all is for convalescents, let the healthy person talk. And even if the healthy person also wants songs, he wants different songs than the convalescent.
It is important to note the distinction between song and speech made at this juncture. It is also significant that before he can start to sing, Zarathustra’s animals recommend that he fashion himself a new lyre: “Behold oh Zarathustra! For new songs new lyres are needed!” They urge him to “sing and foam over” in order to bear his great destiny, which, for the very first time, is called a “human destiny.”
At stake in these events, as stated earlier, is the problem of metaphysics and its supposed overcoming. Zarathustra faces the eternal recurrence (“the most abysmal thought”) and yet, in this visceral moment, he realizes that the small man, the metaphysical man par excellence, in fact recurs eternally, never to be fully surpassed by humanity. This disclosure suggests that human beings always stand in a certain relationship with metaphysics. We cannot simply dissolve metaphysics, as the positivists would have it, since, consigned to speech and historicity, our being is always already metaphysical. Convalescence then is the mode in which one takes a certain distance with respect to our own inescapable ‘standing-in-relation-to-metaphysics.’ The paradoxical recovery from metaphysics in turn consists in taking responsibility for metaphysics. Moreover, this disposition comprises in recognizing that metaphysics is in fact responsible for the historical production of the human being as such. Holding fast to this accountability in turn demands a corresponding attitude of modesty and humility toward the various institutions that result from this fundamental (and unavoidable) entanglement with metaphysics.
Thus convalescence does overcome metaphysics in a certain sense, but not by way of a definitive rupture or outright transgression. Rather convalescence gets underneath metaphysics by unveiling its historical determination. The convalescent thus works through metaphysics, taking it up and inflecting it with an ironic, playful, and affirmative attitude in regards to its own ineluctability. The image of Zarathustra constructing a new lyre for singing should be understood in this way. The convalescent will beget new metaphysical projections, new and different songs, but in a playful, distorted manner. This is precisely why Zarathustra sees “destiny” as a “human destiny.” In other words, metaphysics, especially in its various institutionalized forms, no longer possesses irrefutable legitimacy insofar as we no longer have any substantial recourse to transcendent, super-sensorial, or divine absolutes. Rather the human source of these formerly mystifying institutions are laid bared and perpetually held open, making way for new, and perhaps unforeseen creative possibilities.
I have already suggested that convalescence differs from a definitive going beyond (Überwindung) of metaphysics insofar as metaphysics remains a constitutive condition for humanity as such. Any philosophy which purports to fully transgress metaphysics actually ends up recapitulating all the more fully its totalizing gesture. Instead, convalescence paradoxically implies doing metaphysics, but doing it in a more distorted, transparent manner. Gianni Vattimo contends that convalescence is the Nietzchean analogue to the Heideggarian concept of Verwindung. Given the constraints of the current endeavor, I will not be able to fully unpack the complicity of Nietzsche and Heidegger as it concerns the problem of Western metaphysics. It suffices to mention, however, that reading the Nietzchean theme of convalescence as a sort of precursor to a Verwindung poses many critical problems for Heidegger’s own position vis-à-vis Nietzsche. Heidegger, in fact, asserts that Nietzsche’s thought actually represents the ultimate culmination of the history of Western metaphysics rather than its overcoming. It is true however, regardless of any hermeneutic or historiographical issues that arise between their respective philosophical legacies, that Heidegger, alongside Nietzsche, offers his own explicit approximation of this aporetic concept.
One might also raise the objection that these notions of “reflexivity” and “transparency” highlighted earlier tend to imply something akin to a Hegelian “self-consciousness.” This would indeed confirm Heidegger’s suspicion regarding Nietzsche’s philosophy as the terminus of the trajectory of Western onto-theology. However, introducing Nietzsche’s formulation of the great health (die grosse Gesundheit),a concept inseparable from that of convalescence, distances his particular outlook from the supposed recapitulation of subjectivist metaphysics that Heidegger sought to align with Nietzsche’s concept of the will to power. One of the first appearances of the great health is found in the aforementioned added preface to Human, All Too Human:
From this morbid isolation, from the desert of these years of temptation and experiment, it is still a long road to that tremendous overflowing certainty and health which may not dispense even with sickness, as a means and fish-hook of knowledge, to that mature freedom of spirit which is equally self-mastery and discipline of the heart and permits access to many and contradictory modes of thought—to that inner spaciousness and indulgence of superabundance which excludes the danger that the spirit may even on its own road perhaps lose itself and become infatuated and remain seated intoxicated in some corner or other, to that superfluity of formative, curative, molding and restorative forces which is precisely the sign of great health. . . .
Here Nietzsche makes explicit the aporetic characteristic of the great health which aptly characterizes the convalescent. This health, which is not simply a state of pure salubriousness, actually takes up sickness within it and thereby appears richer and stronger as a consequence. This strange condition of the great health partakes in an interesting activity, one which, as seen above, “permits access to many and contradictory modes of thought.” Deleuze, in his groundbreaking monogram on Nietzsche, helps further articulate the meaning of this somewhat difficult concept:
Illness as an evaluation of health (le salut), health as an evaluation of illness: such is the ‘reversal,’ the ‘shift in perspective’ that Nietzsche saw as the crux of his method and his calling for a transmutation of values. Despite appearances, however, there is no reciprocity between the two points of view, the two evaluations. Thus the movement from health to sickness, from sickness to health, if only as an idea, this very mobility is the sign of superior health; this mobility, this lightness in movement, is the sign of ‘great health’ (la signe d’un grand salut).
As is known, Deleuze’s thought never concerned itself directly with the problem of metaphysics as thinkers like Heidegger and Derrida conceived it. Nonetheless, Deleuze’s description provides a useful insight within the particular problem-frame. In this passage he perceives correctly the aporetic tension within the notion of convalescence that I have been striving to bring to the fore. If to recuperate from metaphysics means to affirm our metaphysics, and in speaking and acting historically, to slip back once again into the sickness of metaphysics itself, convalescence implies “mobility, [a] lightness in movement.” The oscillation between sickness and health, between metaphysics and the recognition of its human source, taken as a sort of dynamic playfulness, understood here by the term great health, is indeed the most important aspect of convalescence as Nietzsche himself presented it.
Thus the figure of convalescent does not implicate a static self-consciousness, but instead a dance-like movement that transverses different points of view. Indeed, this perpetual movement fails to exhibit the strictly singular and unitary character required by the metaphysics of the classical ‘subject.’ Moreover, convalescence seems to have no solid foundation, no unmovable, timeless center upon which one could, once and for all, ground a fixed vantage point. Instead the great health occurs in virtue of an unceasing passage between contradictory perspectives, between the conclusions of natural history and metaphysical humanism, or even between concrete material conditions and the various ideologies that they engender. This produces a sort of transparency, but not the same sort of transparency ascribed to a ‘self-conscious subject’ caught in the act of taking hold of its own representation. It is precisely here that irony enters into the equation. Since convalescence, characterized by the great health, shuttles perpetually between different, opposing perspectives, irony rightly describes its overall character of being always at odds with itself.
Aphorism 120 of The Gay Science, entitled ‘Health of the Soul’ reiterates the paradox of this condition by way of a conjecture: “Finally,” asks Nietzsche, “the great question would still remain whether we can do without illness (Erkrankung entbehren könnten),even for the development of our virtue; and whether especially our thirst for knowledge and self-knowledge do not need the sick soul as much as the healthy. . . .” In the added Book 5 of The Gay Science,an aphorism entitled ‘The Great Health’ offers yet another formulation: “the great health, a health that one doesn’t only have, but also acquires continually and must acquire because one gives it up again and again and must give it up!” The unceasing economy between relinquishment and acquisition again testifies the movement that epitomizes the great health. It is therefore really a question, as Nietzsche himself states, of how “we can do without illness.” Holding fast to the historical constitution of metaphysics permits the reincorporation of metaphysics into a playful, ironic activity which, in virtue of said reintegration, exceeds the projection of metaphysics as it is conventionally understood. Again, irony, the quality of being (often humorously) in contradiction with oneself, appears indispensable to this modality insofar as the convalescent performs an alacritous dance, moving incessantly between the necessity of metaphysical creation, whether artistic, spiritual, or ideological, and the historically contingent character of said creative activity. The convalescent, in the mode of the great health, cannot therefore perform such a dance without at least the possibility of sickness, without finding herself always in a tenuous relationship with relinquishment, abandon, and the seductiveness of artistic rapture.
The great health, as previously stated, appears imbued with paradox. The etymological sense of this word is helpful: from the Greek the prefix para- typically means ‘against’ or ‘contrary to,’ but also carries the spatial connotation of ‘alongside of.’ The root dox derives from the prevalent noun doxa,usually meaning opinion, which in turn derives from the verb dokein,signifying ‘to appear.’ Recall that Nietzsche’s ‘authentic’ virtues become possible out of an initial skepticism which apprehends all values as counterfeit; Tugenden must always already be Scheintugenden. The convalescent who enjoys the great health thus stands alongside (para) metaphysics as appearance (doxa, Schein). Like the dreamer that Nietzsche describes in The Gay Science who suddenly becomes aware that he is in fact dreaming, the convalescent, seeing values as human creations, can now steer the very course of the dream itself.
Thus convalescence, understood in conjunction with the notion of the great health, explicitly contains many crucial aspects of Nietzsche’s rapport with the problem of overcoming metaphysics, those which, more importantly, Heidegger seems to have conspicuously ignored in his analyses: dance, play, creativity, and irony. The motif of the great health brings into focus the fundamentally ungrounded character of convalescence, showing its inability to be pinned down to any singular point of view or disposition. It is important to note that, although this condition is schematized through a sort of rudimentary dualism (metaphysical necessity and historical contingency), it is really an infinite and variegated multiplicity of different states between these two extreme poles through which the dance of the convalescent must forever pass.
Convalescence, Reconciliation, and Language
To overcome does not mean to dispose of, but have at one’s disposition in a new way.
~Heidegger, Phenomenology and Theology, 51
History clearly plays an important role for Nietzsche’s approach to the stumbling block of metaphysical thinking. For convalescence to take place, our entanglement with metaphysics must be apprehended in its essential connection to our attitude toward the past. This is made most evident in the section “On Redemption” in Thus Spoke Zarathustra in which Zarathustra encounters a hunchback who suggests, in order to make his teaching more persuasive, that he ameliorate those who suffer from physical maladies: “You can heal the blind and make the lame walk; and for the one who has too much behind him, you could surely take a bit away—that, I believe would be the right way to make the cripples believe in Zarathustra!” Zarathustra responds, per usual, in an all but orthodox manner: “If one takes the hump from the hunchback, one takes his spirit too . . . .” The hunchback’s problem will not simply be resolved by eliminating somehow the problems of the past. Zarathustra informs the hunchback that it is the “it was” (es war) which “claps even the liberator in chains.” Zarathustra thus elucidates a will which turns backward on itself, defined as “revenge itself: the will’s unwillingness toward time and time’s ‘it was.’” In other words, a vengeful will, compromised by what came before, refuses to affirm the past as indelible and also equally to acknowledge said past as productive in a certain sense of the present. Such a deleterious will remains closed off to the possibility of the future, unable to grasp its own creative potential which screams “But I will it thus! I shall will it thus!” This will which takes revenge on the past is metaphysical insofar as it nullifies and denies itself as a will, negating the life that makes it possible and moreover the future which awaits it. As seen in the case of Paul, the counterfeiter also hides the source of his or her willing, dressing it up to appear divine and camouflaging it through a falsification of history. However, Paul did so in order to reap the benefits of his false coinage, forming herds and monopolizing power. The hunchback, on the other hand, circumstantially inclined to the attitude of ressentiment due to his physical deformity, wishes that such negation could assuage his corporeal suffering. The hunchback, so it seems, would be the perfect target for the counterfeit morality of the priestly type.
Through this image of the hunchback, Nietzsche shows how history stands with respect to the lived body. Nietzsche insists that the body bears the burden of the former deeds of our ancestors. Those who suffer from physical setbacks (hunchbacks, cripples) carry the greatest weight of this inexorable connection between the physical present and the inaccessible finality of the past. Nietzsche condemns any attempt to transverse the impasse from present to past insofar as, in its very impossibility, such a metaphysical gesture becomes irretrievably entangled with the es war, punishing the willing-life out of which it initially arose, denying it and casting it off into oblivion. As a positive alternative, Nietzsche prescribes an affirmative yes to life, which would not “take the hump from the hunchback” but instead affirm the lived present in its potency with respect to the future. This affirmation affirms life regardless of any chain of causality, history, or hardship which might have preceded it. The remedies of Zarathustra seem to suggest that he wants the hunchback to become a convalescent rather than a Christian, bearing metaphysics along with him into the lived possibilities that lie ahead with a humble, ironic, and wholly affirmative disposition.
Nietzsche’s philological training granted him a keen understanding of how discourse serves as the transmitter of human history, and, moreover, how history finds itself determined by the very language of which it is composed. Returning to the scene entitled “The Convalescent” can help further tease out the connection between convalescence, language and history. Zarathustra hones in on the metaphysical, anthropomorphic nature of language in asking a series of rhetorical questions:
How lovely it is that there are words and sounds; aren’t words and sounds rainbows and illusory bridges between things eternally separated? To each soul belongs another world; for each soul every other soul is a hinterworld. Illusion tells its loveliest lies about the things that are most similar, because the tiniest gap is hardest to bridge. For me—how would there be something outside me? There is no outside! But we forget this with all sounds; how lovely it is that we forget! Have names and sounds not been bestowed on things so that human beings can invigorate themselves on things? It is a beautifully folly, speaking: with it humans dance over all things.
Nietzsche reiterates the notion, as we highlighted early, that language concerns a primordial forgetting, an originary loss. As such it constitutes a certain metaphysics through which “humans dance over all things” and “invigorate themselves on things.” The language that transmits history consists of signs, those “rainbows and illusory bridges,” which reach back to seize upon that which is no longer in an attempt to fuse the living present to the negativity of the past. In doing so, the language of history (or the history of language) turns away from the lived world at the very moment when it sinks into oblivion. The convalescent, in seeing everywhere this absurd flight into negativity, declares “There is no outside!” This means the linguistically demarcated divisions between inside and outside, between the present and the ‘events of recorded history,’ or even between sign and signifier, exist only as symptoms of a stifling metaphysical illness. In remission from metaphysics, the convalescent assumes full responsibility for these human, all too human falsifications. The convalescent, like the hunchback, must carry history and language with her into the future, all the while drawing close and remaining open to the human, forgetting which undergirds metaphysics itself. The convalescent, while historical and locutionary, fights to maintain herself in the tenuous space where the negativity of language and history can be thought. This is why the convalescent sings. Again, consigned to language and historicity, the convalescent must use language in a different way since language itself is metaphysical. She must bend language and play with language, all the while trying to make language spill outside its own framework of intelligibility. She must push language to its limit with the tragic hope that it might somehow disclose its own impossibility from within. The entire text of Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, whose style falls somewhere between poetry, myth, and prose, is Nietzsche’s own attempt at undertaking this paradoxical linguistic enterprise.
It is crucial to observe that two distinct modes of forgetting come to the fore here: first, the forgetting of the world which negatively constitutes the metaphysics of language. Second, and more importantly, the creative, active forgetfulness (aktive Vergesslichkeit) which looks toward the future characterizing the convalescent’s paradoxical overcoming of metaphysics through a distorted, dynamic, and playful embrace of metaphysics itself. This is not a forgetting tout court, but rather possesses a substantially different inflection. Such a forgetting does not forget itself as forgetting. The difference, again, comes down to how one stylistically takes up this forgetting. It is a question of the attitude with which one assumes the necessity of forgetful activity. This active forgetting never forgets itself, never loses itself in the ossification of pernicious interpretations or decadent institutions, never gives way to a movement which would force forgetting to really forget, to forget itself and its unceasing movement, becoming instead the unmoving ground of reason, of truth, or even absolute knowledge.
The difficulty is to realize the groundlessness of our believing.
~Wittgenstein, On Certainty,Aph. 161
A brief summation of the insights gained thus far will permit a few concluding remarks that will tie together the results with the political subtext signaled at the outset of this investigation. First I explored the transition in Nietzsche’s rhetoric from his use of the image of a coin eroded over time by constant use, used to describe the dynamics of language and history, to the more overtly critical usage of the term Falschmünzerei,employed to expose the double negativity of priestly metaphysics. I then proposed convalescence as a counter-point to the false coinage of the institution-building counterfeiters. As it concerns the metaphors in question, convalescence is a reconfiguration of the hand-to-hand metaphor or, more precisely, as a displacement within the metaphysical thought that this image invokes. On the basis of the original metaphor, metaphysics qua language occurs whenever the ‘inscription on the coin’ becomes worn away over time. Overtime language loses the signature of the experience which produced it, and as such, becomes nothing but a hollow abstraction. To reiterate, this schema assumes that all the components of language have a singular, unitary event from out of which they arose. Subsequently, it would then be possible to reconstruct their genesis as a coherent, causally interconnected series of representations. This, as I have shown by way of comparison to genealogy, is itself a metaphysical view of history. In contradistinction, the thought of convalescence shifts the milieu upon which the activity of inscription occurs; it re-inscribes the notion of inscription within the reflexive unraveling of metaphysical thinking itself. Inscription is no longer the event of truth which marks the coin, which bestows language its ephemeral proximity to life or lived reality. Rather inscription appears as what it always was, even within the constraints of Nietzsche’s original metaphor: metaphysics, but metaphysics now conceptualized as the inescapable history which impresses itself upon the body, weighing forever down upon the present. It appears equally as the language into which we are born, which serves as the substance of history itself. This history and language immanent to our body is indeed that which the convalescent takes up, bends, and distorts. The convalescent is the one who sees and accepts our perpetual being-inscribed, our metaphysical free fall, so to speak. In doing so, she cherishes the lightness of the open air that one tastes in the spirit of gravity’s all-encompassing embrace.
One might object that I previously advanced the claim, in citing evidence from On Truth and Lies, that metaphysics qua language is the result of the metaphorcity inherent in language itself. Is it not just another opaque metaphysical system whenever Nietzsche employs the metaphors of sickness, health, and recovery to describe a certain orientation toward metaphysics? I contend that using metaphor to unfurl the metaphysical dynamics of metaphor itself, that is to say, to use metaphysics ironically and playfully to openly unfold what is at stake in metaphysics, embodies the performative act of the convalescent par excellence. More importantly, this performativity in fact corresponds to the aspect of movement furnished by Nietzsche’s notion of the great health. Indeed, the deconstruction that such performativity facilitates occurs through a paradoxical taking up and putting into play of opposing perspectives.Overall, the convalescent, from the height of the great health, continually runs up against the very limits of language and history. She nonetheless dwells perpetually, following the etymology of ‘paradox’ alongside language insofar as they are only appearance. Within this limited situation, we understand that all coinage, all value insofar as it is articulated by language and inherited historically, is false coinage. This transformative impasse appears, as both the point of departure and the terminus of the arduous process of convalescence.
Finally, recall that the notion of coinage had a salient political meaning in light of the anecdote involving Diogenes of Sinope. This connation can extend to Nietzsche’s own coinage by making more explicit the meaning of convalescence as it stands with respect to power. The figure of the convalescent, in a manner that approaches the thought of Foucault, suggests that we will always find ourselves involved in certain power relations. Power cannot be transgressed outright once and for all. No caesura will ever sever us definitely from the constraints of power since power exists as a plurality of different forms and in diffuse institutions. Hence the lesson of convalescence teaches us that this desire to completely dissolve ‘Power’ itself, whether as the state apparatus or the hegemony of occidental culture, reinforces all the more detrimentally the real, immanent power relations of our standing political and social institutions. Rather than a traditional, top down conception, the convalescent recognizes that power is instead immanent to our bodies and invested in the very language that conditions identity. Political action or resistance appears more like a Verwindung, a bending or distorting of power from within. Seen across this optic, social change would take on radically different dimensions. Instead of being characterized by violent upheaval or sudden discontinuity, change would rather be guided by more subtle, micro-political forces, perhaps even “by thoughts that come on the feet of doves . . . .”
To comment or respond to the above essay, please send an email to : firstname.lastname@example.org
1. Oxford English Reference Dictionary (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003).
2. Diogenes of Laertius writes: “Diogenes was a native of Sinope, the son of Tresius, a money-changer. And Diogenes says that he was forced to flee from his native city, as his father kept the public bank there, and had adulterated the coinage. But Eubulides, in his essay on Diogenes, says, that it was Diogenes himself who did this, and that he was banished with his father. And indeed, he himself, in his Perdalus, says of himself that he had adulterated the public money. Others say that he was one of the curators, and was persuaded by the artisans employed, and that he went to Delphi, or else to the oracle at Delos, and there consulted Apollo as to whether he should do what people were trying to persuade him to do; and that, as the God gave him permission to do so, Diogenes, not comprehending that the God meant that he might change the political customs of his country if he could, adulterated the coinage; and being detected, was banished, as some people say, but as other accounts have it, took the alarm and fled away of his own accord. Some again, say that he adulterated the money which he had received from his father; and that his father was thrown into prison and died there; but that Diogenes escaped and went to Delphi, and asked, not whether he might tamper with the coinage, but what he could do to become very celebrated, and that in consequence he received the oracular answer which I have mentioned.” (Diogenes of Laertius, The Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers,trans. C. D. Yong (London: Henry G. Bohn, 1853), 224-5.
3. For example, see Sarah Kofman’s book Nietzsche et la métaphore (Galilée, Paris: 1983).
4. Nietzsche, Friedrich, “Homer and Classical Philology,” trans. John McFarland Kennedy, Wikisource, http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Homer_and_Classical_Philology (Oct 23, 2011).
10. Paul De Man argues convincingly that Nietzsche makes use of a genetic, and therefore traditionally metaphysical historical methodology in The Birth of Tragedy. It is true that the concepts of birth and re-birth presuppose a teleological and dialectical conceptualization of genesis which underlies Nietzsche’s historical treatment of Greek tragedy. See De Man, Paul, Allegories of Reading, (New Haven: Yale University Press,1979).
11. Foucault, Michel, “Nietzsche, la généalogie, l’histoire,” In Dits et écrits vol. 2 (Gallimard, Paris: 1994),137.
12. Ibid., 138.
13. Nietzsche, Friedrich “Homer and Classical Philology.”
17. Nietzsche, Friedrich, “Ecce Homo,” The Anti-Christ, Ecce Homo, Twilight of the Idols and Other Writings, trans. Judith Norman (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 17.
18. Nietzsche, “Homer and Classical Philology.”
20. Nietzsche, Friedrich “On Truth and Lying in a Non-Moral Sense,” The Birth of Tragedy and Other Writings, trans. Ronald Speirs (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 146.
21. Ibid., 148.
22. Ibid., 144.
23. Foucault, “Nietzsche, la généalogie, l’histoire,” 139 (translation mine).
24. Nietzsche, “On Truth and Lying in a Non-Moral Sense,” 148
25. Ibid., 150.
26. It would seem, regardless of the context out of which it arose, that Nietzsche held this view even when writing his last published texts: “Language began at a time when psychology was in its most rudimentary form: we enter into a crudely fetishistic mindset when we call into consciousness the basic presuppositions of the metaphysics of langue—in the vernacular: the presupposition of reason. It sees doors and deeds all over: it believes that will has casual efficacy: it believes in the ‘I,’ in the I as being, in the I as substance, and it projects this belief in the I-substance onto all this things—this is how it creates the concept of the thing in the first place . . . ‘Reason’ in language: oh, what a deceptive old woman this is! I am afraid that we have not got rid of God because we still have faith in grammar . . . .” Nietzsche, “Twilight of the Idols,” 169-170.
27. Nietzsche, Friedrich, Human, All Too Human: A Book for Free Spirits, trans. R. J. Hollingdale (Cambridge Cambridge University Press, 1996), 6.
28. Nietzsche, Friedrich “Nietzsche Contra Wagner,”The Anti-Christ, Ecce Homo, Twilight of the Idols and Other Writings, trans. Judith Norman (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 279.
29. Nietzsche, “The Twilight of the Idols,” 202.
30. Also see Nietzsche, Friedrich, Daybreak, trans. R. J. Hollingdale (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 39-55.
31. Nietzsche, “The Anti-Christ,” trans. Judith Norman (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 21.
32. See Nietzsche, Friedrich, The Genealogy of Morality, trans. Carol Diethe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994).
33. Nietzsche, “The Anti-Christ,” 41.
34. Ibid., 38.
35. Ibid., 14-15.
36. Ibid., 14.
38. Ibid., 38.
40. Ibid., 26.
41. Ibid., 31.
42. Nietzsche, Friedrich, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, trans. Adrian Del Caro (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004, 4.
44. Ibid., 40-41.
45. Deleuze, Gilles, Nietzsche et la philosophie, 138-139.
46. Ibid., 139.
47. Nietzsche, “The Twilight of the Idols,” 158.
48. Ibid., 159.
49. Ibid., 158.
50. Nietzsche, Daybreak, 38.
51. Nietzsche, “The Anti-Christ,” 53.
52. Nietzsche, “Ecce Homo,” 89.
54. Nietzsche, “The Twilight of the Idols,” 189.
55. Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, 174.
56. Ibid., 176-7.
61. Ibid., 174.
62. See Vattimo, Gianni, “Verwindung: Nihilism and the Postmodern in Philosophy.” SubStance (Vol. 16, No. 2, 1987), 7-17.
63. This issue can only be briefly touched upon here given its complexity and scope. In order to contextualize this problem it would first be useful to refer to Heidegger’s four volume Nietzsche as well as the essays entitled, “Nietzsche’s Word ‘God is Dead’” and, “Who is Nietzsche’s Zarathustra?”. Eugen Fink’s book, Nietzsche, formulates a possible critique of Heidegger’s position vis-à-vis Nietzsche’s place within Heidegger’s reading of the history of Western metaphysics. Also, for an excellent overview of the entire debate, see Ian Moore’s “Fink’s (Heideggerean) Nietzsche, or The Possibility of a Verwindung of Metaphysics” Purlieu (Vol. 1, No. 1, 2010), 51-74.
64. Nietzsche, Human, All Too Human, 8.
65. Deleuze, Gilles. “L’immanence: Une Vie” in Philosophy 47. Paris: Editions de Minuit, 1995.
66. Nietzsche, The Gay Science, 116.
67. Ibid., 246.
68. Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, 109.
71. Ibid., 110.
72. Ibid., 111.
73. Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, 175.
74. Derrida explores this concept as it pertains to the history of Western metaphysics. See “The Ends of Man” in Margins of Philosophy, trans. Alan Bass (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press 1982), 135-6.
75. Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, 117.
Bataille, Georges. L’expérience interieure. Paris: Gallimard, 1954.
Deleuze, Gilles. Nietzsche et la philosophie. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1998.
———“L’immanence: Une Vie.” Philosophy 47. Paris: Editions de Minuit, 1995.
Diogenes of Laertius. The Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers, trans. C. D. Yong. London: HenryG. Bohn, 1853.
Eluard, Paul. La capital de la douleur. Paris: Gallimard, 1926.
France, Anatole. Le Jardin d’Epicure. Paris: Calmann-Lévy, 1923.
Foucault, Michel. “Nietzsche, la généalogie, l’histoire.” Dits et écrits vol. 2. Paris: Gallimard, 1994.
Heidegger, Martin. “Phenomenology and Theology.” Pathmarks, trans. William McNeille, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998.
Nietzsche, Friedrich. Daybreak, trans. R. J. Hollingdale, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997.
——. “Ecce Homo.” The Anti-Christ, Ecce Homo, Twilight of the Idols and Other Writings, trans. Judith Norman, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005.
——. Human, All Too Human: A Book for Free Spirits, trans. R. J. Hollingdale, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996.
——. “Homer and Classical Philology.” The Complete Works of Friedrich Nietzsche, London: T. N. Foulis, 1912.
——. “Nietzsche Contra Wagner.” The Anti-Christ, Ecce Homo, Twilight of the Idols and Other Writings, trans. Judith Norman, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005.
——. “On Truth and Lying in an Extra-Moral Sense”. The Birth of Tragedy and Other Writings, trans. Ronald Speirs, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999.
——. On the Genealogy of Morals, trans. Carol Diethe, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994.
——. “The Anti-Christ.” The Anti-Christ, Ecce Homo, Twilight of the Idols and Other Writings, trans. Judith Norman, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005.
——. The Gay Science, trans. Josefine Nauckhoff, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001.
——. Thus Spoke Zarathustra, trans. R. J. Hollingdale, New York: Penguin, 1968.
——. “Twilight of the Idols.” The Anti-Christ, Ecce Homo, Twilight of the Idols and Other Writings, trans. Judith Norman, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005.
Wittgenstein, Ludwig. On Certainty, trans. Denis Paul and G. E. M. Anscombe, New York: Harper and Row, 1969.
Vattimo, Gianni. “Verwindung: Nihilism and the Postmodern in Philosophy.” SubStance, Vol. 16, No. 2, 1987.