The Nietzschean Subject

Looking south from Top of the Rock, New York City

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Nietzsche creates the concept of bad conscience as the generator of illness, which is in turn fed by the illness it generates, giving birth to the man of ressentiment.[1] Nietzsche’s ressentiment is what Melanie Klein calls envy. To be able to see the link between envy/ressentiment and the will to nothingness/the life-death drives, I shall start from the beginning, from the first year of life.[2]

In a world where everything is new for the subject, nothing is symbolic. The subject is born into the symbolic order, and yet there are many other symbolic orders totally different from the one into which it is born. The subject, in a nomadic fashion, moves from one symbolic order and into another. The shift from one and into the other is so sudden that it is almost unrecognisable. In its new symbolic order, the subject is experiencing everything for the first time; just like the child in the first year of life. The child becomes the mediator between an external reality and an internal one. Nothing is good or evil yet. The inner world is composed of part-objects which are fluctuating bits and pieces of imagery, a mass of misery. The child, through its actions, not only subverts the symbolic order but also produces some new reality. There are many questions the infant knows not how to ask as yet. For Melanie Klein this is the paranoid-schizoid position of the child through and after which the child learns to make a distinction between the good objects and the bad objects. The paranoid-schizoid position is followed by the manic-depressive position; that is when the child becomes an unhappy consciousness because it learns that the mother’s breast is good and bad at the same time. Lacan’s mirror-stage –a period of Imaginary identifications– is a version of Klein’s manic-depressive position, which consists in a series of Narcissistic illusions and imaginary identifications through which the child learns to act upon the objects surrounding him/her.

The Nietzschean subject is always at the periphery and perpetually in touch with the objects surrounding him. In fact he is not only in touch but also is defined by them. This subject is produced through what it consumes. The subject buys things and those things determine the subject’s identity which is a non-identity. The subject becomes what it consumes, it projects what it has introjected. In a world full of violence, destruction and death, or “madness in every direction,” as Kerouac would have said, the subject becomes nothing but a projector of the evil within society. This paradoxical nature of the contemporary Nietzschean subject is a result of the turning of self into the other within in the process of becoming. The self of the present has not only become a prison-house of the others within itself but also it itself has become a self-contained monad with no relation to the outside and no awareness of the external world populated by the others’ selves.

The relation of a subject to the objects surrounding him/her shows us something about the subject’s relation to death. In a world in which use value as opposed to exchange value is important, the subject gets to know the nature of the objects and death more profoundly. But today use value is itself determined by exchange value. The world today is almost exactly the opposite of a world in which nothing is a substitute for another thing.

With societies based on exchange value the relationship between the subject and the object is confined in the paranoid-schizoid position. There remains no gap between the subject and the object when in fact there should be. Everything becomes a substitute for another thing and everything is substitutable. With the advance of global capitalism the subject itself becomes an object. The subject begins to act itself out as an object for the desire and consumption of the other. The subject becomes a substitute of itself.  With global capitalism the subject starts to feel itself as a machine; it becomes inorganic for itself when in fact it is essentially organic. In other words organs start to operate like non-organs, all organicity is replaced by inorganicity, life with death, and in this kind of a society everyone is always already dead.

Global capitalism indeed appears to have rendered everyone equal in relation to each other. They all have the equal rights to consume but in no way have all the means to do so. This status of the subject as a mere consumer, objectifies the subject as a subject of consumption. The subject is reduced to a consuming-excreting machine(naturally), or a mechanism of introjection-projection(culturally). That makes everyone substitutable by anyone else; they can take on each other’s roles, act themselves out as they are not, as someone else is. In other words rather than become no-one, no-body, imperceptible, they become something exchangeable and expendable. And yet it is only on the condition of feeling oneself as nothing rather than something, feeling of self as nothingness, can one go beyond one’s symbolic life driven by striving for security and omniscience. The subject should start to see the reduction of self to nothingness as a gain when from the perspective of the already existing symbolic order it is a loss of the difference of everything in relation to a subject or an object. In the absence of this kind of a subject who does not want to become an ordinary symbolic person, herd-instinct dominates all subjects. With the advance of global capitalism this herd-instinct can be said to have become nothing but a result of the exploitation of the life and death drives to reduce life to a struggle for and against life/death. The subject no longer has to carry the burden of being different. In this light and in this time we can see global capitalism creating not only the conditions of possibility for the subject to forget itself but also the conditions of impossibility for a remembrance of self, producing the non-knowledge of self as the counter-knowledge.

Now that Nietzsche’s autobiographical book Ecce Homo has become a symptom, an effect of his previous books, the other within of his oeuvre, in most parts of Europe, but especially in the United States of America and Britain, this book is considered to be a  prescription for the predominant way of “healthy living.” It will almost sound offensive to say that the other within of the past has become the self of the present, the non-reason inherent in reason has become the reason itself, and yet the questions remain:

1. What can be learned from Nietzsche’s failure, which caused and continues to cause many other failures?

2. What are the conditions of possibility for a non-antagonistic and yet non-illusory relationship between the self and the other and how can they be sustained?


[1] Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals, trans. Walter Kaufmann and R. J. Hollingdale (New York: Random House, 1969), 33-6

[2]Melanie Klein, Envy and Gratitude and Other Works 1946-1963, (London: The Hogarth Press, 1984), 29-32

9 thoughts on “The Nietzschean Subject

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