Nietzsche′s Corps/e

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Nietzsche′s Corps/e: Aesthetics, Politics, Prophecy, or, the Spectacular Technoculture of Everyday Life [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Geoff Waite.

Waite Nietzsche's Corps/e

“But think back now over the entire, long, virtually interminable extent of Nietzsche/s corpse, as Nietzsche’s Corps/e begins to conclude….” (385) I had to laugh as I read that, because four hundred pages of body text, plus another 150-odd of smaller-typeface endnotes (the author noted an aspiration to a one-to-one ratio between body text and annotation), had taken me six months of careful, if not quite continual, reading to digest. It seemed as if the book, as much as its object, had invoked the interminability of an ewige Wiederkunft.

Geoff Waite hates Nietzsche with the kind of passion that I must suspect of being founded in a prior love. In Nietzsche’s Corps/e he identifies himself with a Althusserian Marxist position opposed to what he diagnoses as: the deliberate viral influence of Nietzsche’s corpus, acting through a corps of intellectuals, toward the ultimate reduction of the masses into a state perinde ac cadaver. (The Jesuit allusion is far from accidental; see 313-315.) He is professedly paranoid in his treatment of Nietzsche, the “Nietzsche industry,” and “technoculture” on the cusp of the 21st century.

With respect to Nietzsche and his intentions, Waite aptly faults “scholarly” or “philosophical” readers of Nietzsche who confine themselves to the oeuvre written for publication. Nietzsche’s workbooks and private correspondence–all now published in German, Italian, and Japanese, though not in English, Waite notes–are indispensable in light of such declarations of esoteric mode as the conclusion of “On Redemption” in Thus Spoke Zarathustra: “But why does Zarathustra speak otherwise to his pupils — than to himself?” (This passage is surely Nietzsche’s equivalent of the fourth chapter of the gospel of Mark.) In particular, Waite claims a central position for the early unpublished essay “The Greek State,” in which Nietzsche affirmed “the necessary Greek triad: ‘slavery,’ ‘esoteric writing,’ ‘the esoteric doctrine of the relation between the State and genius.'” (300)

Waite enters the argument regarding Nietzsche’s sexual appetites armed with some intriguing evidence. But he did not impress me with his repeated references to homosexuality and sadomasochism as if those were self-evidently “bad things.” 

As far as the “corps” is concerned, Waite does not confine himself to any particular textual lineage of Nietzsche interpretation, since he is out to resist them all. He comprehensively examines both right-wing Nietzscheans and left-wing “Nietzschoids,” usually with penetrating criticisms of the latter. He recommends Leo Strauss’s Thoughts on Machiavelli as a manual for reading Nietzsche, and I plan to take him up on this recommendation. Pierre Klossowski’s readings of Nietzsche also win serious points–with caveats–from Waite.

Waite’s notion of the corpse breaks out of the ivory tower and indicts the emerging cyber-society as being in thrall to Nietzsche’s agenda, with targets in popular culture such as William S. Burroughs, Phillip K. Dick, David Cronenberg, and William Gibson. I can’t help but suppose that the later cinematic VR explosion (for which The Matrix was a flagship) brought him into a righteous near-panic! Nor must today’s smartphone-wielding hordes console him.

The entire enterprise of Nietzsche’s Corps/e is taken up in the wake of the “death of communism” and in the face of Bataille’s declaration that Nietzsche’s is “the only position outside of communism.” Waite allies himself with Gramsci and Althusser, and gives Lenin the final word of his epilogue. (The penultimate one goes to Nietzsche.) And yet for all that he offers a “strong rival conspiratorial hypothesis” to the “conspiracy theory” informing Nietzsche’s writings (67), Waite fails to persuade me of the goodness of Communism or the badness of “Nietzchean/ism.”

Ultimately, I am very glad to have read this book, and I would encourage anyone with a serious interest in Nietzsche to tackle it.