Nietzsche and Sexual Politics: Energy and Difference in Power Relations


Dionysos and Ariadne

We do not generally recognize how temporary our concepts and customs are. Foucault has argued our modern concept of sexuality is rooted inextricably in the specific marriage rituals in late Western society. His genealogical-historical method is reminiscent in many ways to Nietzsche’s. Both will explain by turns how this or that concept has its true origin in a (relatively) quite recent conceptual matrix, as opposed to some ancient transcendent intervention. Both show how nomadic counter-insurgencies have always existed to provoke the stability of the existing binary maps towards self-overcoming. The logicization of sexuality, the reduction to a male-female dipole is perhaps the most discouraging of Foucault’s meditations. Nietzsche already is quite sensitive to this modern theme.


Some of the best meditations on sexual politics come from the Anti-Christ: I am thinking of course of the passages on marriage. We are shown that marriage is dissolving but precisely because of love, because we marry on the basis of transitory contingency rather than sexual drives. Mate-selection is no longer authorized by cultural and social authorities; degeneration of rigid cultural forms is the only result. We can mourn this lost becoming — but we risk losing ourselves in such a mourning. Foucault perhaps gets trapped in a melancholic-historic mode which can only mourn the aborted becomings, the sorrowful anguish of the oppressed, the misery of our collective organisms and individual lives.

But hard as it may be to affirm, things that are falling apart should be accelerated in their self-destruction, so that they may be overcome. We must have space for the new, for varieties yet unseen, for variations not yet rescued from the chaotic abyss beyond the segmented spaces of the state and regimented times of custom. We need to outrun the state, we need to be looking out for weapons. We therefore need a philosophy of speed, of rhizomatic evolution, of fluid time. We need a sexual politics based on difference rather than identity.

Nietzsche’s voice is difficult to consign a single tone, theme, location, duration or intensity. His very style is divergent, charged with lightning, catalytic, an evolution and a return. It defies form while pointing the way towards new formations. His text reforms by deforming, deforms by informing. Information as pre-individual, driven by powerful forces — above all, cultivated. Beneath the human relation a flow, a struggle beneath the tables of public celebrations. Chaos as the limit, wandering in the boundaries. A nomadic politics beneath sexuality, a nomadic sexuality beneath politics. We can read Nietzsche without Freud; indeed, we must. Freud is straight-jackets and transference; Nietzsche is liberation and transversality. The subversions are not of the same order; one is a mystical geometry, the other is a joyous materialism. We must emphasize the limitedness of any relation to Freud until we have unfolded Nietzsche’s original and striking position on evolution, on time, and on sexual politics.
Perhaps the clearest difference which can be drawn between Freud and Nietzsche is the question of sexuality.

In Nietzsche the question is not biological, nor mythical, nor subconscious. Intercourse is cultural and material; sex is our writing and our bodies. Nietzsche accomplishes the return of the subject in his text. He completes the modern project by showing it’s problematic to recur endlessly. We have, are, will always be debating the posthuman under one guise or another; it occurs even before the human, the future within the present. The flower within the seed, the seed’s dream of flowering. The time of overman is not linear. The modern is the open; Nietzsche is with Lyotard in that the ‘posthuman’ implications of human possibility are completely tied up with his present situation. The future can be read from a thousand signs. A psychoanalysis of decoding dreams without recourse to mythology or biotechnology; one which asserts the existence of pure, decoded flows of intensity, a metaphysics of the will to power.

We need a modern sexual politics, one asserting a difference without identity. A non-dialectical difference. Through dialogue, the subversions of Marx and Freud are too often conflated with the singular Nietzschean revolution. Nietzsche’s voice deserves to be heard alone; but making his project into a political one requires conjunction. Yet his voice is hermetic, sealed off — precisely because it is an opening. This paradox will drive us forward, keep us questioning.
First, we need an institutional psychoanalysis which is not an institution of psychoanalysis; this gap, which Freud and Marx also point toward, is what Nietzsche’s text succeeds in opening — and allows to remain open. This is the critical step which Freud could not take, which Marx could indicate only towards the end when his revolutionary fire had consumed itself; whereas Freud could not label anarchic recurrence as ‘neurotic’ quickly enough. On the contrary, Nietzsche places a doorstop in the portal of tomorrow; his text is like a rude guest, whose body/text occupies more than any space allotted specifically for it. A virus, the messy guest who leaves doors open: an importunity which can be forgiven as an inconvenience since it is in hindsight a significant benefit, even a theoretical necessity.

We must enter and exit problems quickly; we must not allow ourselves to be trapped. We must lay traps; but then we must allow our homes to be entered by strangers, we must play hosts to nomadic swarms. We must live dangerously, allow malicious flows of energy to pass through us. In a parable of Nietzsche, the Don Juan of knowledge would consume learning until there was no knowledge left but that which was poison, knowing which would endanger his life. But this would still not reduce its value in his eyes. Knowledge for knowlege’s sake: he would rather know Hell than cease his curiosity. Sexual morality is silence, non-education: not knowing, it is a wanting not to know, to continue to forget. I cannot abide this, therefore I abjure it. I have already forgotten it. Rather than choose, I deny the choice. To say “no” in this way is to affirm multiplicity. Contempt for forgetting is revolutionary, just as forgetting can be a becoming-innocent. We ought to consign prescribed choices to oblivion; no more identity politics. Multiplicity is first, difference the origin of everything. All things from their opposites; everything flows, from a million sources, towards a million black holes. The formation of lines of organic flight: the source of future. We must make hands to make the future; neither will make themselves. We cannot unmake gender until we lose our unwavering faith in grammar. Gender makes new conjugations illegal. The fascism of God, of the State, of language is always also sexual totalitarianism. No politics without sexual politics: the desire which comes first, the desire which means reproduction, transversality, survival.

Sexuality and power: bodies, ownership, identity
Sexuality and energy: sources, flows, instability
Sexuality and the future: genealogy, difference, transhumanity

This entry was written by Joseph Weissman and published on Saturday, September 29, 2007 at 11:30 pm. It’s filed under bodies, culture, difference, Foucault, freud, identity, Marx, Nietzsche, overman, Politics, posthuman, sexuality, time. Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

3 thoughts on “Nietzsche and Sexual Politics: Energy and Difference in Power Relations

  1. Intriguing. I’ve only just come across this site, so I’m still wandering around and getting a feel for it. In other words, I’m breaking the ‘don’t comment til you know the blog’ rule. But I had a couple of point I wanted to toss your way. Please, forgive if they’re misplaced.

    I liked this point: “We cannot unmake gender until we lose our unwavering faith in grammar.” It set off a couple of threads for me: Irigaray’s writing, oft claimed to be incomprehensible because it plays and plays and plays with language, drawing out the difference flowing red-blooded beneath its bloodless strictures; Lingis writing on translating Levinas, who attempted to drop subject-verb-object sentence structures in favour of verbal and adverbal forms, thereby avoiding the tyranny of l’etre which denies the other (it works in French, apparently, but makes for incomprehensible English! I wonder what that says about the sexual politics attached?); and finally, the observation that verb in the subject-verb-object, or, more often, the conjugation of ‘to be’ is called ‘the copula.’ The shape of couplings, then, are already framed for us, as you say, conjugated to make subjects, objects and desires in its own image. Perhaps?

    I’m kinda intrigued that you suggest “the desire which means reproduction, transversality, survival” is the (or a) key to a politics which engages adequately with sexual politics. Without wanting to overdetermine what you’ve written (that is, I’m aware you may not have ‘meant’ this, so I may just be seeking clarification), citing reproduction and survival as fundamental seems to me to bind desire to what is all too easily classed as ‘the natural': heterosexuality and woman-as-mother. This seems to sit oddly with your ‘yay for difference’ (which, don’t get me wrong, I was cheering along with!). Indeed, when I think about Liz Grosz’ ‘A Thousand Tiny Sexes,’ I’m struck by how conservative and heteronormative a desire shaped by reproduction sounds. My instincts in relation to this question would be that desire is precisely a desire that draws me on towards alterity, which is always already *altering* me, not reproducing, and which is about excess, not survival.

    One final point: there are many many feminist texts which argue precisely as you suggest: that what is required is a logic which operates from difference rather than from identity. It struck me as a little ironic that in a post on sexual politics, not only were no women writers mentioned, nor were women… however much endlessly different difference might be what you want to recognise, forgetting the strictures placed on difference by the current system of sexual difference, and particularly the price that women continue to pay (the sexual double standard being the most vulgar of examples) strikes me as less a becoming-innocent and more as a perpetuation of a forgetting that is key to the current configuration of sexual difference. I think Deleuze has been soundly critiqued for his ‘becoming-woman’ in this regard.

    I actually wanted to say something connecting the piece on Nietzsche and beauty with this one, but I have rambled forever, and must therefore come to a stop. Stop. Thanks for this :-)

  2. Thanks for your wonderfully rich comment! I defintely agree that ‘survival’ has a sort of ‘bare living’ connotation associated with it; your point about forgetting structural relations seems to go with a ‘bare survival’ mode of existence. Reproduction is not about replicating a static equilibrium, but about becoming, differentiation. Not necessarily consigning the past to oblivion, but recognizing it’s preliminary quality. The past is virtual, and like the future, intervenes in the present in the form of visions, dreams. Even if we don’t believe in transcendence, it’s hard to deny transduction — gender, among other abstractions, is the correlate of a self-organized heterogenesis, and an opening, a passage to more complex dimensionality — thousands of genders rather than just two.

    I guess what I’m saying is that we can explode binary oppositions, but the existence of double-standards remains strangely unaffected by this theoretical reversal. We protest the existence of oppressive social structures, but secretly we desire them even more. Everybody wants to rule the world, but nobody wants to take responsibility; we want to be blameless, innocent in the creation of a new and different social order… This is, I suppose, why it is pleasing to forget the rigid segmentation of desire, why it makes us happy to consign the future to oblivion, to imagine ourselves unencumbered, unmoved, undifferentiated. To imagine ourselves apart. Lacan writes that society is elitist. I wonder whether it is machines which are elitist, machines with narrow desires, rigid structures. Can we conceive of a machine which doesn’t break down, which doesn’t destroy in order to create? If not, then we have to affirm that violence is a necessary prerequisite for change. But the problem of violence is ambiguous, and what you’ve said gives me much to think about. I am going to have to revise the line of thinking I began in a more recent post on the concept of utopia. Again, thanks so much for your response! I’ve enjoying reading your blog for some time. Your ideas are more than welcome here.

  3. I have never been a part of any blog and do not have much to add here. I am here mostly out of extreme curiosity and intrigue. Nietszche is a mind I hold in high regard so reading any form of interpretation or analysis brings me joy. I said this in a prior comment that I am really glad I found this site; that continues to unfold…hm. Keep it up and I will certainly keep reading, learning, changing. Thanks!! -Miranda

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