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Reading Nietzsche like a loser

Michael Bacal22 February 2012

For a long time people have said that to really think with Nietzsche is to think against him. Yet, as it stands, so many of the writers, philosophers and critics who draw on him or self-identify as "Nietzscheans" rarely, if ever, seek to contest the rhetoric or dominant narratives of strength and superiority in his writings. Surely anyone who has read Nietzsche will be familiar with the seductiveness of his prose and the remarkable ease with which one can --- consciously or not --- identify with the powerful and the masterly. Nonetheless, in spite of this well-known aspect of reading him, it has not been until quite recently that writers on Nietzsche have begun to question the apparent failure to resist this temptation and what broader implications it has on understandings of his thought.

Over at The New Inquiry, David Winters has reviewed Malcolm Bull's new book Anti-Nietzsche, which takes this question centrally and, in an astonishing twist, exhorts us to try and "read Nietzsche like a loser." That is, he encourages us to read Nietzsche's texts through a process of consciously dis-identifying with its dominant perspective and, rather than simply reproducing the relations of dominance it posits, enter into a critical engagement against the grain of the work. For Bull, to do this is to seriously attend to the radical ideas under the surface of Nietzsche's writings, and, crucially, to open oneself up to the radical force and political salience of his thought today.

In his review, Winters notes that,

Bull begins a sort of thought experiment, although it's far from an arid theoretical exercise - at times its tone approaches that of Swiftian satire. To read Nietzsche like a loser, Bull reasons, is not to reject his arguments but to accept them, even at their most reprehensible. If Nietzsche wants to write about rising above the herd or enslaving the weak, then he's welcome to. Only, in following his flights of fancy, we're not to fall into the trap of identifying ourselves with his fictional victors. Rather, Bull says that we must "make ourselves the victims" of these texts. We should side with the slaves, the sick, the defeated, at all times turning Nietzsche's arguments against ourselves. In this way we can depart from Nietzsche "without having to meet him again," reading for victory neither with nor over him but only ever over ourselves. To read like a loser is to refuse to collude in a fiction of dominance.

Visit the New Inquiry to read the review in full.


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