Élodie Boublil and Christine Daigle’s (eds.), Nietzsche and Phenomenology: Power, Life, Subjectivity – Review By James Walter Bodington

51xwsbyztul-_sx331_bo1204203200_Nietzsche and Phenomenology: Power, Life, Subjectivity is a collection of wide-ranging and thought-provoking literature on the nature of the relationship between Nietzsche and the phenomenological tradition. While more attention is devoted to Husserl than any other figure in phenomenology, there is a considerable amount of material on Merleau-Ponty and Heidegger as well as occasional forays into the thought of other figures variously located throughout the phenomenological tradition, including Sartre, Levinas, Nishitani, and Fink. As a whole and in its constituent elements, this volume draws meaningful and important conceptual and historical connections and actualizes the rich potential for a taking-together of Nietzsche and phenomenology. This potential is made especially clear in those essays in which the proposed relationship between Nietzsche and phenomenology is extended and applied beyond the scope of the original texts, as is the case in, for example, the contributions by Saulius Geniusas, Françoise Bonardel, Babette Babich, Bettina Bergo, and Galen Johnson. In what follows, I will attempt an overview of the collection, ask after certain of the claims made in the editors’ introduction, briefly comment on the essays in the collection, and highlight what I see as several of the most important and interesting threads running through the essays collected therein. My critical comments are in most cases intended as questions, as this is a rich collection of well-argued and impeccably researched essays with which I found my own disagreements to be productive and challenging.

The collection far exceeds the stated goal of the editors’ introduction, which is as follows:

[Asking] the question of ‘Nietzsche and phenomenology’ is an opening of the inquiry. We hope to settle a number of issues and indeed demonstrate that this undertaking is valid and fruitful both historically and philosophically. Readers will be convinced, as we are, that our question(s), rather than being Holzwege, in fact open(s) up rich pathways that must be explored. The following questions take us on some of these (5).

This collection does more than introduce questions, though it certainly does do this. In addition to being an “opening of inquiry” it provides several promising directions for this inquiry, is in many places an exemplar of thoughtful and critical philosophical research, and offers compelling, if necessarily tentative answers, to many of the questions raised. Further, I think we might rightly say that the burden of proof lies on the side of those who would deny the validity and fruitfulness of taking together such powerful and influential thought as that of Nietzsche and the phenomenologists. Thankfully, the essays that follow the introduction seemingly unanimously take for granted the interest and import of their conjunctive subject. The editors are right to mention the dearth of literature on Nietzsche on phenomenology, and this collection warrants being taken not only as opening questions, but as positing interpretations and applications which justify consideration on their own terms. It is thus in many ways an ideal early entry into what I hope will be a growing field of literature on Nietzsche and phenomenology insofar as it provides concrete and compelling entries into the question of this complicated and challenging relationship.

I will now turn to several of the essays individually, briefly recapping certain of them, raising occasional critical questions and concerns, and bringing to the fore certain recurring themes. The collection is split into three sections: “Life and Intentionality,” “Power and Expression,” and “Subjectivity in the World.” These demarcations are far from rigid, as the themes of many of the essays cross these boundaries and touch upon many of the themes named. The collection is book-ended by translated essays by Rudolf Boehm (“Husserl and Nietzsche”) and Didier Franck (“The Object of Phenomenology” and “Beyond Phenomenology”). Franck’s work has been influential on the study of Husserl and Nietzsche, particularly in France, but his pieces here (both taken from his Dramatique des phénomès and translated by Bettina Bergo) feel somewhat elliptical, particularly given the paucity of references to Nietzsche in both essays compared to the other essays in the collection. Nonetheless, Nietzschean concerns clearly permeate the essays and Franck interestingly and compellingly analyzes flesh and drive in phenomenology, keeping clearly in mind the tension between Husserl and Nietzsche on rationalism. Boehm’s “Husserl and Nietzsche” is a suitable choice of first essay in the collection, since, as the editors state, Boehm’s essay “constituted the first attempt to draw a comparison between Husserl’s phenomenology and Nietzsche’s thought” (2). Boehm similarly treats the tension between Nietzsche and Husserl as regards rationalism and irrationalism, throwing into relief the apparent opposition between the principles of “life” (as fundamental in Nietzsche’s thought) and “Reason” (as fundamental in Husserl’s). In attempting to “intercept the path that links the two viewpoints” (13), Boehm argues that the characterization of Husserl as rationalist and Nietzsche as irrationalist is more wrought than we might first think. Given the influence of Boehm’s essay, it is unsurprising that several of the subsequent essays likewise proceed from an analysis of this, or a similar, tension. Boehm’s compelling likening of Nietzsche’s project of “transvaluation of the truth-value of the ‘apparent world’” (16) and Husserl’s project of transcendental phenomenology as first philosophy is likewise occasionally taken up throughout the collection. Christine Daigle’s “The Intentional Encounter with ‘the World’” similarly takes up Nietzsche’s criticisms of rationalism as a locus of comparison with Husserl’s phenomenology. Daigle begins by claiming that “Nietzsche’s critique of Kant goes hand in hand with his rejection of earlier rationalistic accounts of the self” (29), adding that Nietzsche’s relationship with Kant is far more complicated than it is usually taken to be, and proceeds to argue that Nietzsche’s rich engagement with Kant in Human, All Too Human, can be understood as phenomenological. Daigle’s reference point for phenomenology here is Husserl’s Cartesian Meditations. It is worth noting that while the essays in the collection largely focus on and argue for a particular interpretation of the nature of the relationship between Nietzsche and phenomenology, numerous figures and works serve as the reference point for phenomenology. Besides Keith Ansell-Pearson’s essay, which explicitly takes Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology of Perception as emblematic of phenomenology writ large, most limit the scope of their claims to those particular works with which they are explicitly concerned. Similarly, we encounter many different Nietzsches across the body of this anthology, owing both to the diversity of interpretations as well as the diversity of Nietzsche’s thought across his corpus. There is, of course, some difficulty inherent in comparing, or putting into dialogue, a single thinker with a broad philosophical movement. Even though Nietzsche’s thought is diverse, it is unified in a way that phenomenology is not. This is not entirely problematic, as the plurality of understandings of phenomenology, the lack of agreement regarding what count as its necessary and sufficient conditions, contribute to the diversity of the volume. (Still, one might object to taking any particular work as metonymic for “phenomenology,” just as one would with positing a particular work as emblematic of “Nietzsche’s thought”.)

A concern with the respective methodologies of Nietzsche and various phenomenologists, particularly Husserl, as well as Nietzsche’s status as a phenomenologist (as Babette Babich points out, Merleau-Ponty in Phenomenology of Perception classifies Nietzsche as a phenomenologist) guides several of the essays. Daigle’s essay argues for an interpretation of Nietzsche as a phenomenologist or proto-phenomenologist. A similar position is taken by Babich, according to whom Nietzsche “poses a radical critique of the knowing subject qua knowing, which epistemological critique is phenomenologically, if also hermeneutically articulated” (118), and Frank Chouraqui, who inquires not only whether Nietzsche practices or anticipates phenomenology, but what sort of phenomenology that might be. Saulius Geniusas and Kristen Brown Golden take Nietzsche’s thought and phenomenology as sharing important similarities. For Geniusas, phenomenology and genealogy can be complementary; for Golden, Husserl’s genealogy as articulated in the Crisis shares important similarities with Nietzsche’s perspectivism. Lawrence Hatab reads Nietzsche as furnishing resources for phenomenology, specifically a Nietzschean phenomenology of values, which enterprise may illuminate the way in which our lives are guided by the appearance of value. Élodie Boublil argues that Nietzsche anticipates phenomenology, as is particularly evident in the tension between “the vision and the riddle” that, Boublil argues, structures Nietzsche’s thought. Like Johnson and Babich, Boublil considers the tools furnished by Nietzsche’s thought for understanding and evaluating phenomenology. Specifically, Boublil argues that a going back to Nietzsche by phenomenologists, besides being interesting because of the anticipation, can reveal the nature and metaphysical presuppositions of the fundamental pervasive, yet maybe evasive, concept of intentionality. These three contributions (those by Johnson, Babich, and Boublil) are, along with Saulius Geniusas’ essay, standout elements in a very strong collection.

Geniusas’ “On Nietzsche’s Genealogy and Husserl’s Genetic Phenomenology: The Case of Suffering” juxtaposes the phenomenological investigation of the experience of suffering with the Nietzschean emphasis on the interpretation of suffering and does so in a way that meaningfully contributes to the philosophical understanding of pain and suffering and reveals certain shortcomings in the dominant contemporary philosophical treatments of suffering. In addition to putting these strands of thought into productive contrast, the essay is an exemplar of the sort of comparative work undertaken in this volume for the adroitness with which it puts Nietzsche and phenomenology into productive dialogue in both their moments of unity and divergence. Johnson’s essay likewise considers the potential relevance of Nietzsche’s thought for phenomenology. His “Nietzsche and Merleau-Ponty: Art, Sacred Life, and Phenomenology” puts Nietzsche and Merleau-Ponty into productive dialogue on questions of art, flesh, and the sacred and presents a unique articulation and extension of their thought.

Babich’s “Nietzsche’s Performative Phenomenology: Philology and Music” is likewise notable for its focused reading and compelling extension of aspects of Nietzschean and phenomenological thought. According to Babich, the bodily response to “a thought, an idea, a style of music” Nietzsche describes may be understood, with recourse to Merleau-Ponty, phenomenologically. Further, Nietzsche is engaged in a phenomenological project in his critique of the subject and in his particular “’science’ of ancient philology” (119). Babich covers, in a focused and purposive way, diverse elements of Nietzsche’s thought, including his self-understanding, his attitude towards Wagner, and his thinking of the body.

While Babich’s essay draws wide-ranging implications from a focused reading of particular elements of the thought of Nietzsche, Husserl, and Merleau-Ponty, other essays are considerably broader in subject and scope. Keith Ansell-Pearson’s essay, for example, puts Nietzsche into dialogue with phenomenology very broadly understood. Ansell-Pearson employs, for example, especially broad understandings of nuanced and complicated phenomenological terminology including “wonder” and “the natural attitude”. Where Ansell-Pearson’s contribution is most interesting is in its highlighting of the shared commitment between Husserl and Nietzsche to the manner in which experimental philosophy can “afford us insights into existence that are simply not available to us in our normal, everyday, and habitual comportment” (231), which calls to mind the conversion experience and perpetual beginning that, for Husserl, are characteristic of the phenomenological undertaking.

The rare stumbles in the collection occur when significant differences between Nietzsche and the phenomenological tradition are ignored or elided. Occasionally, seemingly significant differences, for instance as regards Nietzsche and Husserl’s understandings of truth or the particulars of their attitude towards the idea of a fundamental science or the Kantian thing-in-itself, are mentioned only in passing. The diversity of the collection, in this regard, is a blessing, as a number of the contributions devote considerable attention to the prominent and profound differences between their objects of study. For instance, while Daigle makes mention of the possible tension between Nietzsche and Husserl arising from the latter’s goal of grounding a general science absolutely and the former’s rejection of the Kantian attempt to ground a science of appearances in the existence of the thing itself (31-32), Golden both sharpens and leaves intact this contrast.

A particularly thoughtful distinction between Nietzsche and Husserl is found in Bettina Bergo’s essay, which takes Nietzsche’s account of the force of bodies and Husserl’s foregrounding of biology as fruitful points of similarity, difference, and potential application. Bergo draws connections to contemporary research in neurophenomenology, a novel application rooted in a concise and thoughtful exposition of the aforementioned aspects of Husserl and Nietzsche’s thought. It is worth noting, though, that neurophenomenology, and particularly its relationship to Merleau-Ponty, is not monolithic and likewise requires a degree of taxonomy and/or conceptual demarcation. Frank Chouraqui goes perhaps the farthest in considering the apparent tensions between Husserl and Nietzsche, arguing that “Nietzsche believes that a consistent opposition to the thing-in-itself necessarily entails a rejection of the bipolar distinction between the subjective and the objective, a distinction that Husserl maintains” (178) and presenting this disagreement as a real obstacle in thinking Husserl and Nietzsche together.

While the aforementioned essays can be thought of as considering the methodological similarities and dissimilarities between Nietzsche and phenomenology, two of the essays in the collection are occupied with what one might deem existential concerns. Bonardel examines and problematizes Heidegger’s engagement with Nietzsche as thinker of nihilism. Bonardel treats Nishitani and Heidegger, in their respective dealings with Nietzsche’s treatment of nihilism, as Nietzsche’s “heirs” (90), unifying them in both their concerns and their lineage of influence. However, the essay raises, both implicitly and explicitly, questions that require answering in any comparative (East-West) account of nihilism in the Nietzschean sense. Specifically, are the shared struggles referred to in Nishitani and Heidegger really best understood as the same nihilism? In order to answer this question I think it is necessary to inquire after the role that Christianity plays in the history of nihilism. In particular, one must ask whether an essential role for Christianity is a necessary condition for the nihilism with which Nietzsche is concerned, and whether there are distinctions to be drawn between the manner in which Japan and Europe “lost [their] traditional and spiritual bearings” (90).

In a similar vein, Dastur tackles the question of whether Nietzsche is best thought, as he is by Heidegger, engaging Fink’s claim that Nietzsche instead “’heralds’ a new ‘ontological experience’” (104) and capitalizing on the similarities that Fink finds between Nietzsche and Husserl. Dastur adroitly juxtaposes Fink’s reading of Nietzsche, which understands the latter’s theory of being and becoming as play as opening up post-metaphysical possibilities, which possibilities remained unheard by Heidegger. Dastur, though, questions Fink’s reading as well in an unsettling that seems to be in keeping with the play of Nietzsche’s thought as Dastur understands it.

Again, this diversity of subjects, attitudes, and approaches to the question of the nature of the relationship between Nietzsche and phenomenology is a strength of this collection. Further, the essays that constitute this collection are thought-provoking and furnish a more than adequate early step in examining this fertile philosophical intersection.