Sunday, April 26, 2009

A kick in the pants.

"The Church fights passion with excision (Ausschneidung, severance, castration) in every sense: its practice, its 'cure,' is castratism. It never asks: 'How can one spiritualize, beautify, deify a craving?' It has as all times laid the stress of discipine [sic] on extirpation (Ausrottung) (of sensuality, of pride, of the lust to rule (Herrschsucht), of avarice (Habsucht), of vengefulness (Rachsucht). But attack on the roots of passion means an attack on the roots of life: the practice of the church is hostile to life (lebensfeindlich)."
Nietzche, from Joyful Wisdom presumably, quoted by Derrida in Spurs, 93. Emphasis in text, and the German, again presumably, is Nietszche's. I'm not sure if this is the a direct translation from the German or from the French translation quoted by Derrida.

This is pretty harsh, and surely a little too totalizing for me to be comfortable with it. I think it can be helpfully contextualized twice:

1) Bear in mind the aim (or one of them, at least) of Nietzsche's anti-Christian polemics. In On the Genealogy of Morals, Nietzsche analyzes Christianity as a mechanism of discipline implemented to subvert any attempt by the down-trodden to gain any sort of power. By focusing on meekness as a virtue that operates in conjunction with a pay-off in the afterlife, the ruling class--the priesthood in much of Nietzsche's more poetic moments--create a situation in which subordination is the only ethical choice. Strength, intelligence, creativity, and passion have no moral value. In the aphorism above, Nietzsche is suggesting that the Church is largely to blame for an unhealthy reservedness, for a society with no balls, we might say nowadays. Now, of course we ought to take issue with the overtly masculinist gesture there, and a large part of Spurs is Derrida trying to makes sense of that, so I'll leave off on that. The main point I'm trying to make here is that aphorisms like the one above are aimed not at defamation for its own sake, but are rather a part of a larger discourse on emancipation. (To be sure, I'm misreading Nietzsche a bit when I suggest his main project was about emancipating the poor. More candidly, I think he was simply interested in emancipating men generally--and Derrida comes awfully close to suggesting that this includes emancipating women from the social economy that impels them to roles that Nietzsche derides.)

2) Why is Derrida interested in this? There are several reasons, but I'll focus briefly on one that's not directly addressed (as directly as Derrida ever says anything) in Spurs. It would be a little silly for a French intellectual in 1978 to be too caught up attacking the Church. I think what's going on here is a broader critique of the role of "castratism" culturally and academically. For one, we do well to recall that Lacan (hiss!) is one of Derrida's nemeses, and that for Lacan, theories of lack and castration are quite important (formative, even). Derrida, like several of his contemporaries, would like to develop an epistemology or even an ethics that denies castration this central role (this is important for feminists, since castration has served since Freud [at the latest] to justify institutional misogyny.) When Nietzsche says "church," he at least in part is serious, and to a secondary degree is talking about the ruling class and the genealogy of morals. When Derrida says "'church,'" it caries with is our individual complicities--we are all complicit!--and serves as a critique of negative (onto)theology generally.

3) I'm apparently not using my other blog anymore. I'll admit, I just picked it because the name is funny. I'll let you know if that changes. For now, you can just ignore the long, boring and pretentious posts you find here.

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