Translation: The Dia-critical Method: Pierre Boudot’s Method of Reading Zarathustra

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diacritics / dialectics / Eternal Return / French Translation / method / Nietzsche / Nietzsche aujourd'hui / nihilism / ontology / Pierre Boudot / Zarathustra


Boudot, Pierre. “La méthode dia-critique: une méthode de lecture de Zarathoustra.” Nietzsche aujourd’hui (2 vols.). Pierre Boudot et. alia. Publications du centre culturel de Cérisy-a-Salle (Paris: UGE, 1973),vol. 1, pp. 371-383. Translated by Taylor Adkins [9/07].

The following is my translation of Pierre Boudot’s essay. The discussion following his essay in the Nietzsche aujourd’hui volume will also be translated at a later date with commentary.

At each moment of his thought, Nietzsche reactivates the reasons why he is Nietzsche, and pushes a little further, a little farther away, the fundamental concepts of his thought, while varying (almost without his knowledge) the contents in combination with the problems that occupy them. The basic Nietzschean concepts do not have the same direction according to whether one makes use of them to interpret The Birth of Tragedy or Human, All Too Human or to explain their specific sense. Thus any interrogation on Nietzsche must see whether these are concepts that vary by successive implicit definitions or if they alternate when words, apparently identical as for their phonemes, push in front of them a reality which deviates differently because it is transformed from the inside by the basic themes that Nietzsche himself proposes. If the basic concepts vary, it is in order to commit a series of misunderstandings which employ them according to the innovation of the automatically corresponding problem and clearly to the innovation of words which however would be pronounced and heard in the same way: eternal return, overman, nihilism, revaluation of values, will to power.

If, on the contrary, something in the concepts does not vary, it is because they have a methodological dimension preliminary to the problem, and because it is necessary to disentangle the concepts in order to know how this dimension radically modifies the levels of reality interconnected in the concepts. Nietzsche does not dialectize these contents of reality because, to him at least, it is clear that the term “morals,” for example, does not have the same sense, nor the same contents, nor the same range, nor the same problems, according to whether he speaks about it in connection with the Greeks, or the Christians, or from the point of view of the overman. The methodological structure of the fundamental Nietzschean concepts makes it possible to elucidate the difficulties traditionally analyzed by dialectical interrogation.

The first of these difficulties consists in seeing that the basic concepts are themselves double: on the one hand, they have a conceptual weight which gives them a mobility of interpretations and senses; on the other hand, they have a methodological rigor that gives them a structural stability. Consequently, on the one hand, a dynamic capability to invent contents of reality, on the other hand an authority capable of choosing or creating these relations, organizing the modalities of interior relations to these contents, enabling one to control evolution and to direct the subversion of a totality. The values of which Nietzsche speaks are indeed not limited to the moral field. They are also logical, semantic, scientific, metaphysical, historical, anthropological, and aesthetic.

However, Nietzsche is not suicidal and he knows that a similar upheaval will come about — being given the simultaneity of subversive movements — if the possibility of finality were not preserved. It is thus with the methodological dimension of the basic concepts that he asks to preserve this possibility. “How badly we reason in domains where we are not at home, however well we may be accustomed to reasoning as men of science!” (Human All Too Human II: The Wander and His Shadow, 277). This effort remains naturally ambiguous, because the possibility of finality is preserved and not the possibility of a single direction which would restore eschatology or a content by which determinism would reject the effort of subversion. From this point of view, Nietzsche’s nihilism is the moment of passage, the moment when semantic reality changes contents, modifies its internal levels, and suspends the previous organization of the concept.

The revaluation of values, Umwertung, forces methodical readjustment to deviate between the apparently similar conceptual exterior and the signs of a new reality radically different from the preceding one. The eternal return founds an act and the possible ones that result from this act; the return maintains the possibility of a reorganization of reality. The will to power does not insist upon force, but on the possible as such and on the movement lending a structural becoming to this possible (Will to Power). As for the overman, it is not more “hierarchical” than the will to power, nor is it the will to tyranny. It is rather beyond, awaiting the other side of words which the movement of reorganization will have completed, awaiting the moment when, eternally, the one who thinks must re-encounter the words that he says. The eternal return, omnipresent, affirms the constancy of a relation between the thinker and language.

Nietzsche does not employ the diacritical word, but we do not think that he would have repudiated that which, in the foreword of Daybreak, affirms the union of faith and knowledge of which “the underground man…, the man who bores, digs and corrodes” is capable. He would have accepted that one opposes a dia-crisis to the Platonic dia-noia, i.e. the addition of the movements of transformation and recreation and of the movements of choice and decision. He would have accepted diacritics in order to reorganize the relations without the negation of a dialectical contradiction that rejects movement by hypostasizing knowledge into contemplation. Diacritics, in this sense, is set apart from the dialectical as well as the historical. What is in question is the judgment that the thinker brings to the world and to things, the certainty that nothing is magical, that behavior has no raison d’être and is consequently irrationally reasonable, that creation is unhindered, that the word no longer has a function of taming matter, that history no longer has a function of dominating matter, that history no longer has a function of justifying the fight between spirit and reality, that the true time of man is in front of him, is established simultaneously in a transformed concrete reality, in a semantic reality reorganized in words, in an eccentric human reality freed from dualistic crutches. We think that Nietzsche names all of this “the instinct of rhythm which embraces worlds of forms.” There is thus on the one hand what is stable and contestable on the semantic level, and on the other hand what escapes with the experience and with the immediate comprehension and which is a change of reality inside words, change based on a temporality beyond time. In the interval between the becoming not yet actualized and the moment when reorganized reality will be identical to time, the presence of the eternal return affirms itself. Thus to think it “sets one creed and absurdity against the other” (Daybreak); they oppose each other like the spoken word opposes itself to its semantic significance, like becoming opposes itself in the movement which makes it be time, like the overman opposes man by blaming his confidence in reason.

Nietzsche’s scepticism against the reality of progress implies a methodological requirement founded on the propaedeutic requirement of analysis, evaluation and destruction. To control becoming on the level of the thought which foresees and the level of the word which fixes reality through anticipation, is what the method must make possible and identical to this project and to the inspiration which presides over “the advent of the things.” Founding the dispute of becoming by the methodological presence of the eternal return makes it possible for the conceptual container to accommodate contents of a changed reality. The diacritical thought has thus as its function to deal with the originally assumed critical function through the interior reality of the concepts, to direct the separation of structural levels, and to clarify the choice governing the infrastructural reorganization of these levels. But it also has a function of not determining anything, of destroying prejudices, including those which could attach themselves to its methodological responsibility. Diacritics introduces irony into the movement and the irony itself has a systematic purpose to preserve the possibility of a double freedom: that of reality and that of language.

It is in this way that certain antinomies should be understood, certain antitheses which could let one suppose that Nietzsche becomes again in spite of himself the thinker of history, for example, of the opposition between the rabble and the overman, between the immediate and the distant, between life and death, etc These discrepancies are only explanatory processes, not crude assertions or dialectical presuppositions. “The evidence, he writes, is against the historian,” but if it is to the historical intelligence of men to which he however makes an appeal by channeling their attention to the evidence related to contradictions, he wants to attract them to the grace of the antagonistic terms of this evidence, by the possibility that it offers them the chance of thinking against its immediate and historical data. The diacritical thought is consequently a nihilist thought whose finality is all the more creative as this nihilism is not and does not want to be the cause of itself. It is also in this sense that the “clinical” character of Nietzsche’s thought justifies the apprehension of the diacritical method in the interior of nihilism. To be nihilist is to take part methodically in the augmentation of the forces and movements making it possible for the world to create itself. To create itself does not mean “to repeat itself,” no more than it means living without rules or values. A philosophy that repeats itself is nothing but a religion, with an ensemble of rituals, a liturgy of the word, an ear, and even a theophany of language. It is not that which produces itself. Over and against the millennia of imitation, it is necessary to establish what was lacking. It does not matter which way.

One could indeed object that we do not fashion the rather beautiful place for the Nietzsche of irrationalism, that we ignore the bond between the ruins and the breaker of tables, that we dam up “revolutionary” spontaneity, etc. None of these reproaches or arguments concern us. Irrationalism has nothing to do with the absence of rationality, the ruins do not need to be resuscitated since the adequate method is enough to show that they are identical to the appearances to which we give the names of culture or civilization; revolutionary spontaneity is unjustifiable if it is based on the individual awakening of frustrations or on the dream of a collective Eros. The diacritical method founds a finality that is not finalist, a reasoning bound to the uncertainty of the thinker and not to the certainty of the result. It acts, as Nietzsche writes in Daybreak, “not to represent the problem under the color of the Gordian knot or the egg of Colomb;” it therefore does not claim to overcome a ritualistic obstacle or to identify a simple answer to the complexity of a problem.

The peremptory character of Nietzsche’s assertions in Zarathustra thus does not only illustrate the idea that it is not any more a question of seeking the “Truth” or “Wisdom,” but it also shows that Nietzsche does not yet know the real data of the problem with which he wishes to engage. Valéry wrote in this connection: ”I did not conceive that this powerful and vast spirit would ever finished with the unverifiable. ” But Valéry, who precisely employs the word “unverifiable,”, did not understand that this is about Nietzsche’s problem. Logical discourses and coherent, organized books or aphorisms seem to us to be only propaedeutic stages in the development of Nietzsche’s fundamental intuition. These are landmarks that secure themselves before the pre-semantic and pre-real universe for which it is necessary to suggest the first term of the future genealogy without forcing it under the materials which are ours and that have proved their inefficiency, although we are obliged to ourselves to account for these elements.

Diacritical nihilism opposes itself to nothingness as well as to perfection, and also to the absence of the unsurpassable. Myths, images, metaphors, are so many tricks to suspend authoritative and causal logical activity. It is like a pick-pocket who raises his nose at the victim to enhance the value of his treasure or—if he has a sense of humor—to throw it down at his victim’s feet! But the treasure, here, consists in the bet that, if the world fails to fall into silence, a new and original movement will be essential, able to overturn appearances or structures and to treat them like tools, means for a natural end; this is a world whose present will not depend on becoming and will not be judged according to the past. The silence and death of the world in which we live are thus necessary for the creative passion of the one which waits. Diacritical rigor brings them to light. There is in Nietzsche a Pascal without God and eternity.

It is therefore undoubtedly not a paradox as large as one could believe to affirm that Nietzsche’s constructive or aphoristic discourse basically has a methodological range and a structure of method. Between the word that tries to convince and the synthesis of the assembled formula, a distance affirms itself between what one is saying and what it will be necessary to affirm when the masses of culture browse, as through so many obstacles, the remarks which, once understood or assimilated, will transform its nature radically and will make it ready to decipher that other discourse, that which it is still necessary to dissimulate behind a metaphor: that of Zarathustra. Everything converges towards Zarathustra or everything starts from him. “One day, one will create pulpits to explain Zarathustra.” Nietzsche’s assertion is clear. To explain, that means here to connect to presupposed methodologies which have governed the remainder of the work and to apply a type of reading that will take account of the entire work in order to write its logical discourse, in the same way that the world to come will take account of the ruined former world to elaborate new structures without resemblance. In Zarathustra, “all the opposites establish themselves to form a new unit.” What I have appealed to elsewhere as Nietzsche’s ontology[1] is comprehensible here if one remembers that we said that Nietzsche challenges our universe as being that of appearances or hallucinations and that it awaits the universe announced by Zarathustra as a dimension-to-be, of the absence of fluctuations in the provisional determinism of becoming whose great midday is the image, a reality so solid that it can be the container of all the reorganizations and reinforcements making it possible to work out a cosmology of freedom apart from any vertigo, any magic or any recourse to the creative support of God. Through the playful activity of the world, grace is impossible in a cosmology of liberty to which it is neither free, nor artificial, nor arbitrary.

The role of the diacritical method, such as one can apply it, thus consists in writing the logical discourse that Zarathustra has not wanted to write. However, he has given us the alphabet for the foundations of decryption and for those of the new writing. Zarathustra is in the center of the perspectives of which Nietzsche speaks; each work is at the same time a judgment or a totality of judgments to be analyzed and a trace to be followed in a multiplicity of problems in which it is necessary to understand what they are and how they form themselves in us. The research plans are thus already here enumerated. To study the grounds of Nietzsche’s judgments, to study the levels of their expressions, to connect the external causes to their internal alphabets, to study the origin of their trace, to try to seize their trajectory at one stroke, to follow this trace while being delivered methodically to the lapse of memory of what has previously assigned the studied judgments, to follow oneself in the process of change engaged since we first affirmed the call of adventure, to connect what one discovers of oneself and what one discovers of reality, to establish correspondences, to return afterwards to our first judgments in order to abolish them, to apprehend at one stroke one’s own becoming and that which is from now on behind oneself, such are the first requirements, such are the primary goals.

These are bound to the research of interior processes which will make it possible for man to be an intelligent actor of the re-creation of the world[2]. Without innocence, we will always only see a devil in the mirror when we look at ourselves. The diacritical method, which can seem strict because its propaedeutic dimension always involves the requirement of hermeneutics, is actually accompanied by an individual asceticism. “Another ideal runs in front of our steps…, the ideal of a spirit which plays naively… with all that is brought up to the point of the sacred, the good, the intangible and divine” (The Gay Science). Nietzsche proposes here an incomparable balance between intelligence and sensibility. The great midday is the center of this balance. It is not moreover an asceticism of deprivations of which we speak. Otherwise, Nietzsche would be read from a Stoic point of view, and this would be an error. Asceticism acts contrary to what there is in the heroic, in which all knowledge is pushed to the limit. Asceticism is at the heart of immoralist existence. To abolish the sin in which it comprises a judgment on the act, is to abolish the Christian dialectic of deprivation and the middle-class mechanism of inhibition. To act in and on the infrastructure of our personality requires, on the other hand, an effort of elucidation much more fertile than what occurs through us if, by the same occasion, we discover a correspondence between our infrastructures and the infrastructures of the worlds and the discourses which the diacritical method puts in order through the movement or movements that it discovers. We do not study Nietzsche any more thoroughly, but we arrive little by little at being simultaneously the creator and the theorist who he was in Zarathustra. Identical to creation and the divergent movements that the creative force can only gather along with the pedantry alleviated in our irony with regard to ourselves, we learn how to keep or organize the reflexive distance without which it is impossible to know.

Practically now, the program remains to be seen which this diacritic method can implement, “to put together for the first time the question of why and of how “(Ecce Homo). That could comprise three stages:

–To note first of all what Nietzsche to some extent isolated from what he proposes cannot be Nietzsche without motives. To suppose that these motives are not due only to their specificity, but to the whole of the reactions which they had against their time and the culture related to our civilization. To explain consequently the logical presence of Nietzsche in history, without ever forgetting that this discourse is a rupture, that the madness of Nietzsche is the heritage of our culture and the discourse of his century. To observe aesthetic, anthropological, religious, moral, sociocultural, metaphysical, scientific, theological, and finally epistemological spaces. To see Nietzsche’s time under each one of these prospects through his relations with authors or the problems which enabled him to approach them.

–To apply to the whole of the work of Nietzsche–Zarathustra excluded–research and exciting interrogations. To organize teams allowing for the disentanglement of anthropological, epistemological and other discourses within Nietzsche’s theoretical and aphoristic works. To gather transversally the notions, concepts and proposals, to perhaps treat them through an electronic machine able to hypostasize in one or more works of theoretical synthesis that make visible the theorized ensemble of Nietzsche’s clinical judgments

–To see Zarathustra finally, part by part, song after song according to these various types of readings without being immediately worried about disentangling its logical discourse, asking for the diacritical method the endeavor of asceticism which I have already evoked and which will be used here not to recover Nietzsche in the tradition or the order of history. To think with the rupture without falling in because the former propaedeutics will serve us as a bridge, to think the rupture by following the movements through which it deepens, to break its accorded logical thought simultaneously with the movements of Nietzsche’s rupture to observe them by empathic rhythms and directions.

–To study (with a team) the various works of this investigation, to seek, perhaps also by machine, the axes, the ensembles, the concepts which will make it possible to write the dissimulated book by Nietzsche in Zarathustra’s actual discourse and to eventually prepare with the work a hermeneutics which awaits philosophers, if it endures.

[1] L’Ontologie de Nietzsche, Paris 1971.

[2] For more of this applied research, see my work Nietzsche en miettes.

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  1. Pingback: French Translations: Works in Progress « Fractal Ontology

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