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Notebook 36, June - July 1885 36
Along the guiding thread of the body. Supposing that ‘the soul ’ was an attractive and mysterious idea which philosophers, rightly, gave up only with reluctance - perhaps what they’re now learning to exchange for it is even more attractive, even more mysterious. The human body, in which the whole most distant and most recent past of all organic becoming regains life and corporeality, through which, over which, beyond which a tremendous, inaudible river seems to flow: the body is a more astonishing idea than the old ‘soul’.
Nietzsche is keeping with his critique of knowledge as error, of truth as error. Error is baselessness. Error is the assumption that something, some principle for example, is sound enough to use as basis for something else. Nietzsche’s recurring discovery seems to be that every thought or principle has an outside; and that inasmuch as any thought is based in another thought, questioning the whole (body of thought) is justified. Nietzsche finds that the whole basis of thought is not in thought itself, but in life. Life at the higher levels is recognizable by its ongoing effort to promote itself, to advance itself, expending its energies in pursuit of that goal. Knowledge and belief can be seen through this lens. Cultural beliefs and individual beliefs can perhaps always be seen as an assertion of supremacy directed against some other thought or belief or living form, even when they are within oneself. The continuum of ‘life’ holds all the way down to the smallest level where individual particles or ‘atoms of force’ seem to behave in the same way, attracting (by possessing strength) or repelling (by applying strength), according to Nietzsche. When viewed as subjective centers, as tiny theaters of subjectivity, these atoms of force can be said to be expressing themselves, to be exerting will. This willing, supported by a certain dimness of feeling, is found in even the smallest of particles, and can be seen in each successive layer of organization, up to and including the human being. Back at the level of knowledge, however, of thoughts linking them1
selves to other thoughts — this is always ultimately baseless since knowledge exhibits the characteristics of a virtuality that is separate or divorced from the main system (reality). It tends, especially in philosophy, to represent itself as a closed system, to base itself on first principles that pretend to seal the system off from any outside. Nietzsche’s note here is, on one hand, an example of the perpetual re-discovery that first principles can always be questioned from the point of view of some other knowledge. It is in a way an empirical observation and not a regulative principle being advanced in this note. Nietzsche is expressing himself in terms that are just as symbolic and representational as those used by proponents of eternal first principles. The difference perhaps is in the way the openness or decompletion of the system is organized. The paradox of whether there is any outside to the text can be set aside here. Nietzsche is not advancing a rigorous critique of knowledge as knowledge, seeking to maintain the paradox of such a critique up to the hilt (as in deconstruction). Rather, his critique is more classical critique inasmuch as he sees in one set of meanings another set of meanings. He sees in beliefs-in-general a sort of life-expressiveness (in general). One can consistently look (e.g. at a belief and the way it expresses itself in a totality of meaning) and find something else (the life expression). The way this is done, the type of product it yields, is consistent enough and self-similar enough to be judged fertile (‘truthful’). When it comes to Nietzsche’s comment on the body, it can certainly be said to be ahead of its time. It is still ahead of Foucault, who attempted to rediscover the body in ‘the soul is the prison of the body’ and to liberate the body through an investigation of the ethics of pleasure and as well as a consciousness of the body as site of power technologies (a critique that itself belongs to a certain erotics — rather than a critique of power, Foucault’s work when viewed alongside its special sensibility resembles more an erotics of power). Nietzsche’s point in this note is to critique the body as another basis for thought, for subjectivity, and as first principle. Nietzsche attacks the election of the body as empirical or intellectual given. Of course, this can only be the case since he has already elsewhere situated the body on a continuum of subjective willing forces that extends down into the smallest particle level. Thus, there can be no hard and fast division between
the body and everything else. The body is just as implicated in a broader web of causality as the ego. Nietzsche situates both the soul and the body as mysteries. He is quite right to do so. The philosophers in question are not only guilty of choosing the soul or body as arbitrary starting points, that is, guilty of making assumptions in the most general sort of way; they also, according to Nietzsche, choose these sites of mystery as their starting points precisely because they are mysterious, precisely because they cannot be questioned. We see this routinely in philosophy. When something is opaque, when something cannot be interrogated, we set it beside us, but slightly behind. We use it as starting point, we beg off questioning it too closely. It is a sort of firm foundation for philosophizing because it is unassailable, precisely because it is mysterious. It is condensed in its meaning and uncertain in its scope. There is substance there, usually, but it is too dense and too obscure. We therefore take it as given, even though we don’t know what we’re talking about.