Modern Engendering: Critical Feminist Readings in Modern Western Philosophy

By Bat-Ami Bar On | Go to book overview

Nietzschean Debris: Ruth as Circe

Margaret Nash

"Truth as Circe. Error has turned animals into men; might truth be capable of turning man into an animal again?"

Nietzsche, Human All Too Human (519)


I

What is it to know a self? Who is the subject that knows and seeks knowledge of itself? Are these questions still questions that admit of an answer in a postmodern climate in which the subject has been erased by multiplication, a climate in which the subject, like Nietzsche's God, is dead or at least in the process of dying? In killing or erasing God we unsettle a redemptive, purposive order. Humanism too is dying as we dethrone the universal 'man' ensconced between the humus and the ism of a tradition marked by a hope attached to method. Nietzsche's thought spurs on this project of deposition. This deposition holds out another hope, however. It is the hope of utilizing the humus, this decayed, rotting, nourishing matter, for ends other than silencing, static universalizations.

Can feminists find a foothold here? Does relinquishing universalizations entail relinquishing knowledge claims or is it rather that the idea of self-knowledge is transformed once we refuse to pose it or to frame it as if the object is transparent and limited? The pursuit after such knowledge, far from being purely cognitive, requires struggle, tears, laughter, deceit and endless repetition that is never quite a repetition. These phenomena muddy attempts to pin down a referent and hence transgress the boundaries of traditional epistemology. The knower is both implicated in what is known and called into question as an inquiring subject who really seeks to know. In sundering a straight forward opposition between knower and known, inner and outer, we sunder the fiction of a unified self.

Nietzsche opens up a space for understanding the multiple, fluid identity of the subject, an identity held together by opposition

-219-

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