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The Shortest ShadowReview - The Shortest Shadow
Nietzsche's Philosophy of the Two
by Alenka Zupancic
Zone Books, 2003
Review by Matthew Ray
Feb 12th 2004 (Volume 8, Issue 7)

   Although Nietzsche's fragmentary and ambiguous writings have not infrequently been subjected to what we can call a 'deconstructive' reading (by Jacques Derrida in Spurs, Paul De Man in Allegories of Reading, Phillippe Lacoue-Labarthe in 'The Detour' and 'Apocryphal Nietzsche', for instance), they have nonetheless been comparatively untouched by a specifically Lacanian psychoanalysis. Not any more: Alenka Zupanic's The Shortest Shadow: Nietzsche's Philosophy of the Two is -- caveat lector -- almost as much about Lacan as it is about Nietzsche himself. The fairly lengthy appendix, by means of illustration, is not connected with Nietzsche at all. And some of the themes and figures of the book arguably owe more to the concerns of modern French philosophers such as Badiou or the (later) Deleuze than they do to Nietzsche himself (the notorious Heideggerean interpretation of Nietzsche is not relied upon, however). Prospective readers of The Shortest Shadow might like to know this broadly Lacanian orientation prior to purchase, as it is not really suggested by the title. Now, the encroachment of Lacanian themes into Nietzsche may, no doubt, be seen by some potential readers as a bit of an intrusion. But is it a fruitful one?

    To some extent, yes: on the positive side, Zupanic covers a wide range of Nietzsche's texts in The Shortest Shadow, unusually including his poetry as well as his prose in her comprehensive reading. And her analysis of the later Nietzsche on the 'ascetic ideal' was incisive, bringing the notion to bear on modern cultural preoccupations in a highly plausible way. Also, her knowledge of the Lacan corpus is impressive and she writes in an unlaboured style throughout. Plus, she references contemporary art and culture in a frequently accessible way. On the negative side, though, there are what this reviewer regards as certain inaccuracies of Nietzsche-interpretation. For example, in the course of examining various of Nietzsche's theories and ideas, Zupanic's conviction (meant as support for the idea that Nietzschean subjectivity is split in two), that there is no relation between Dionysis and 'the Crucified' (both of whom Nietzsche identified with, p.18, suggesting a fissure in 'his' subjectivity), though perhaps understandable in that it follows Deleuze's influential monograph on Nietzsche as well as Nietzsche's own misleading self-interpretation in Ecce Homo, is nonetheless mistaken, as, for the early Nietzsche, Dionysis and the Crucified are surprisingly very closely related (on this see, for example, M. S. Silk and J. P. Stern, Nietzsche on Tragedy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), pp. 121, 213 and 287; in addition, J. Young, Nietzsche's Philosophy of Art (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 49). Also, Zupanic's position that 'Nietzsche defines nihilism as the psychological state that makes us search for meaning or sense in everything that happens' (p.153) would seemingly include Christians as nihilists, whereas in fact for Nietzsche European nihilism begins after, and precisely because of, the decline of faith in the Christian God (the first sections of the collection of posthumously published notes by Nietzsche assembled under the title The Will to Power make this clear). It is the underlying feeling of meaninglessness, and not the simple desire for meaning, which characterises nihilism. Also, Zupanic's characterisation of the notorious 'slave revolt in morals' described in Beyond Good and Evil and particularly in On the Genealogy of Morality as the 'masters' giving names and the 'herd', on the other hand, fighting 'for the interpretation of these names' (p.44) seemed to me to be a completely unsustainable position as a reading of Nietzsche. After all, it is the slaves and not the masters who are said by Nietzsche to invent the very designation 'evil'. Moreover, Nietzsche says in the first essay of On the Genealogy of Morality: 'The herd instinct […] finally gets its word in (and makes words)' [Diethe translation, Cambridge University Press, p.13]. Nietzsche further writes that the slave revolt in morals is a 'workshop where ideals are fabricated' [Ibid. p.31]. It follows from such remarks as these by Nietzsche that, contra Zupanic, the herd are not only just as linguistically and conceptually inventive as the masters; they are much more so.

    Furthermore, Zupanic's statement that 'knowledge is structured like desire […] Every new discovery is thus accompanied by the feeling that […] it is always possible to go further' (p.106) seems similarly unNietzschean. For Nietzsche, the notable characteristic of knowledge is that it is felt as a stable foundation by its seekers: it is seen as an intrinsic good, valuable in itself; an unconditioned reality external to people that will function as a final place of contemplative rest (I have borrowed heavily here from the analysis in Peter Poellner's most meticulously argued Nietzsche and Metaphysics (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995) pp.114-117). Indeed, at one point in On the Genealogy of Morality Nietzsche refers to ''knowledge', 'truth', 'being', as an escape from every aim, every wish' [Diethe translation, pp.103-104]. Nietzsche's claim that 'knowledge' is an escape from every aim, every wish seems, to say the least, irreconcilable with Zupanic's Lacanian remark that 'knowledge is structured like desire'.

     Doubtful interpretations of Nietzsche such as those mentioned above seemed to this reviewer to mar the project of jointly reading Lacan and Nietzsche, perhaps even to suggest that there is little in the way of philosophical relation between the two authors. For Nietzsche, Dionysis and the crucified are not necessarily always to be seen as testimony to a split; and knowledge is more like an anaesthetic than a desire. Nevertheless, should readers who are already positively oriented toward Lacan wish to see Nietzsche read alongside Lacan, The Shortest Shadow: Nietzsche's Philosophy of the Two accomplishes the task deftly, and in some style, although, as I have suggested, arguably at a cost to the precise recovery of Nietzsche's own energetically disturbing thought.


© 2004 Matthew Ray


 Matthew Ray, Bristol, UK


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