ACTIO IN DISTANS
New Battles. —After Buddha was dead, his shadow was for centuries still exhibited in a cave—a gigantic, terrifying shadow. God is dead; but, as is the way with humans, there will perhaps be caves for millennia in which his shadow will still be exhibited.
NIETZSCHE, The Gay Science, 1882
The true formula of atheism is not God is dead … the true formula of atheism is God is unconscious.
LACAN, Seminar XI, 1964
Kleist wrote somewhere that what the poet would most like to be able to do would be to convey thoughts by themselves without words. (What a strange admission.) WITTGENSTEIN, Culture and Value, ca. 1931
To advance intercourse within the borders of the four corners of the earth, an electrical telegraph has recently been invented, a telegraph that by means of dynamo and electrical wire communicates information at the speed of thought, I mean to say in less time than any chronometric instrument can register. KLEIST, “Letter Bomb Project,” i8io
Island down before One who does not yet exist [Ich trete vorEinem zuruch, der noch nicht da ist], and make my bow, a millennium in advance, before his spirit.
KLEIST, letter of 1803 (also cited by Heidegger in the documentary film Im Denken unterwegs, 1975)
Philosophy acts at a distance, in a void (mine!) ALTHUSSER, L'avenir dure longtemps, 1985
Obviously it is anachronistic to attribute to Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900, and who effectively ceased writing in 1888) any serious thoughts-neutral, negative, or positive—about current “technoculture” (the tendency increasingly to fuse culture, in the broad and narrow sense, with digital technologies that can “freely” manipulate and synthesize images and sounds) and hence about his own technocultural afterlife as techno-Nietzscheanism. Nonetheless, speculative attempts linking Nietzsche to various forms of wireless communication are already underway, at least en passant. But the deeper problem lies elsewhere. As parsed by Charles Grivel in his work on radio, “since God is dead the voice, without reservation, dissolves.” And so it is that Nietzsche's parable of the ear in Thus Spoke Zara-thustra (also the central exhibit of Derrida's otobiographie) has been called “a parable of the effects of radiophonic art.” But Grivel is simply wrong. God is not dead, is “not-dead.” We recall, with Lacan, that the most radical statement of atheism is not “God is dead” (any more than God is eternal), but rather “God is unconscious.” This is what enables Radio Nietzsche to
Now, radio qua technology (as opposed to its concept or possibility, both of which came much earlier) was arguably created in 1913; and the first commercial radio broadcast was in 1920. Radium had been isolated chemically and radioactivity discovered in 1898 (by Marie and Pierre Curie). In the words of radio's historian and theorist Allen S. Weiss (whose Phantasmic Radio analyzes the way the medium disembodies and reembodies what I call corps/es), it was on January 31, 1913, that
Edwin H. Armstrong notarized his diagram of the first regenerative circuit, an invention which was to be the basis of radio transmission. His discovery was that the audion (vacuum tube) could be used not only as a detector of electrical waves but also, through regeneration or feedback, as a signal amplifier. Furthermore, as a generator of continuously oscillating electronic waves, it could be used as a transmitter. The very first demonstration of audio amplification, by Lee de Forest in November 1913, created the “crashing sounds” of a handkerchief dropping. Radio was created—and along with it, an unfortunate electronic side-effect was first heard, that of static.
In 1898 Nietzsche was still alive but not receiving broadcasts of any kind from the outside world. And by 1913 and 1920 his physical corpse had naturally long decayed; the globe had fast turned toward its first technowar, which accelerated and was accelerated by radio technology; and the basic structure of Nietzsche's influence (i.e., “immanent” or “structural causality,” in the Spinozist and Althusserian senses) was firmly rooted in place qua corps/e. This was the Nietzsche who had written in Thus Spoke Zarathustra not of handkerchiefs dropping, it is true, but that it is the thoughts coming in our “most silent moments” and “with the feet of doves” that “guide the world.” Nietzsche intended this particular thought, as his thought generally, to be exoterically beautiful, esoterically chilling, and ultimately concealed by, and transmitted through, static.
As a rule of thumb, it is worse to underestimate than overestimate Nietzsche, whose influence would be much less had he anticipated less. Certainly he had taken the pulse of the mass—or, as he called it, “philistine” and “decadent”—culture of his own, early capitalist time. And this was the same time for Germany as for the rest of Europe, the United States, Japan, and increasingly the globe. He had already done so by his 1873 essay on David Friedrich Strauss, and he continued to do it in his extensive critiques of Wagner's “total work of art” (Gesamtkunstwerk) and, most tellingly, in his
The discovery of radium aside, basic technological prerequisites for radio were well in place within Nietzsche's sane lifetime (though my argument resists technological determinism). On December 6, 1877, “Thomas A. Edison made the first recording of the human voice onto a tinfoil roll, singing ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’” Weiss continues:
As never before voice is separated from body and eternalized in a technological mechanism—breeding the first of sundry techno-phantasies … where the fears, hopes, and phantasms of disembodiment are finally actualized. At the very moment that the invention of the typewriter and the practice of experimental psychophysics freed words from both their gestural significance and their meaning, and at the time that psychoanalysis dissociated meaning from consciousness, phonography transformed voice into object, marking an end to several millennia of pneumatological, ontotheological belief.
To be sure, readers of the Bible accustomed to God speaking through burning bushes or prophets will find nothing new here, nor would anyone attuned to the other types of accousmatically disembodied voices. In any case, this was hardly the end, for Nietzsche, of the archaic need and desire to maintain all types of hierarchy and order of rank by the best technological means available. Rather, it was for him yet another new beginning within the great cycle of Eternal Recurrence of the Same informed by Will to Power.
Weiss suggests that “the paradox of radio” consists in the fact that “a universally public transmission is heard in the most private of circumstances; the thematic specificity of each individual broadcast, its imaginary scenario, is heard within an infinitely diverse set of nonspecific situations, different for each listener; the radio's putative shared solidarity of auditors in fact achieves their atomization as well as a reification of the imagination.” So it is, too, that Radio Nietzsche cannibalistically, incorporatively feeds off this paradox to produce (“interpellate”) auditors receiving a universal esoteric message in the exoteric guise of maximum individuality. As pertinent for Radio Nietzsche is the fact that the omnidirectional “surround sound” of radio (in my extended, non-technologically reductive sense, and in any case unlike visually rooted, monodirectional technologies or concepts such as television) allows the consumer to do other things in the rest of the more or
The properly Nietzschean articulation of aesthetics, politics, and prophecy also consists of the desire to “write”—that is, to be “heard” before being read—so as to have maximum possible and subcutaneous effect in the future, after the death of one's material body, under the sign of the slogan, as Nietzsche put it in 1882 (as always bastardizing Spinoza), “sub specie trecento-rum annorum “ (under the aspect of three hundred years). And a year later: “To be ignited in 300 years—that is my desire for fame.” (Not fortuitously, Nietzsche's tercentennial timeframe was adapted by Heidegger for the pro-leptic dissemination of his own work.) In 1881 Nietzsche spoke in social Darwinian terms of millennia, and had his own version of a millennial Reich: “The age of experiments [Experimente]! The claims of Darwin are to be tested—through experiments [Versuche]! As is the evolution of higher organisms out of the lowest. Experiments [Versuche] must be conducted for millennia! Raise apes into men!” Raise them, that is, as work force, as the “trained gorillas” of Taylorism. Now recall Nietzsche's 1880 aphorism “Premises of the machine age”: “The press, the machine, the railway, the telegraph are premises whose thousand-year conclusion no one has yet dared to draw.” And note the striking double homology: on the one hand the relationship between Nietzsche's desire to have an effect beginning in 300 years (or millennia), his desire for prestige and its required prestidigitations, and his need for social Darwinian experiments extended into the distant future; and, on the other hand, “postmodernist” Nietzsche's implication, “prediction,” or “self-fulfilling prophecy” that his effectivity would be conterminous and compossible with the development of whatever new information technologies might become available.
Lacking exposure or access to radio, film, video, HDTV, even telephones and phonographs, let alone the digital technologies of cyberspace and implant chips, and having barely discovered the typewriter, Nietzsche did know technoculture superbly well in its then most powerful mode. The Wagner-ian “total work of art” was the sublime and subliminal mode of communication that is today widely viewed as a crucial protoform of virtual reality (VR). Yes, Nietzsche criticized “the music drama of the future” (Zukunfts-musik), but not in principle, only in kind: Wagner himself had betrayed its politico-philosophical, world-historical mission to transmit “order of rank” by selling out to such epiphenomenal and counterproductive aberrations as anti-Semitism, Christianity (“Platonism for the people”), and the Germans. Presumably Nietzsche would have had the same reservations mutatis mutandis about any future technology, including the internet, cyberspace, and so
It's deathly still in the room—the one sound is the pen scratching across the paper—for I love to think by writing, given that the machine that could imprint our thoughts into some material without their being spoken or written has yet to be invented. In front of me is an inkwell in which I can drown the sorrows of my black heart, a pair of scissors to accustom me to the idea of slitting my throat, manuscripts with which I can wipe myself, and a chamber pot.
This text from 1862 outlines Nietzsche's subsequent project: to take advantage of the limited technology of writing to work proleptically on the “material” of the human race until more advanced techniques of subliminal and subcutaneous “imprint” might be found. And Nietzsche was to have remarkable success in sublimating and transforming the scatological, sadomasochistic, suicidal aspect of his juvenile project into a fully mature and more social process of euthanasia, one related specifically to music and to radio-active aural transmission generally. “Compared with music,” Nietzsche stressed, “all communication via words is shameless; the word dilutes and makes stupid; the word depersonalizes: the word makes the uncommon common.” And music is one of Radio Nietzsche's transmissions inter alia inter pares.
As for the precisely scatological aspect of Nietzsche's precocious teen-aged fantasy of “influencing machines,” it can be linked directly to radio by reference to Artaud's famous failed attempt at radio broadcast. In philosophical “translation,” for Nietzsche, death is profoundly involved in the transactions between producing corpse, corpus, and receiving corps. On the one hand the mere biological contingencies of birthing and of the division of mammals into two basic (binary) sexes may all be replaced by a bio-engineering that Nietzsche's many affirmations of the necessity for the higher man's “breeding” (Zuchtung) give us no reason to believe he would reject. On the other hand there seems to be, at least for Nietzsche, a direct homology between male birthing and the projective nature of “radio” transmission as a particular type of excrement: the expulsion of dead but potentially lethal matter. Weiss follows Freud, Bataille, and particularly Artaud to note that, like radio transmissions,
excrement, as a sign of death, is formless matter excluded from the organization of the symbolic order. It poses a threat to cultural formations both because it signifies a wasteful expenditure that circumvents societal modes of production and because it is an originary sign of autonomous production, of sovereign creativity bypassing societal structure of exchange. Excrement marks the body, and not the socius, as the center of production, whence comes the necessity, in the process of socializing the infant, of controlling anal functions and establishing the anus of possession and exclusion. This exclusion entails, in the major irony of human ontogenesis, the rejection of one's own body, a rejection which is the very origin of sublimation. Any desublimated return to anality in adult life marks a return of the repressed and serves as a contestation of the symbolic law.
So it was in the case of young Nietzsche's prediction of imprinting technologies. But so it also was, at the outset of his academic teaching career, that Nietzsche's then closest friend (the classical philologist Erwin Rohde) and their harshest enemy (Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff, an underclassman of Nietzsche's at Schulpforta and the dominant classical philologist of this and the next generation) were thus not wrong to set out the terms of debate about Nietzsche's philology in his first book The Birth of Tragedy—all according to the antinomy: Zukunftsphilologie versus Afterphilologie. For the philology of Radio Nietzsche is precisely both a proleptic philology of and for the future and an anal philology, that is, anally aggressive to maximum effect, ex extremis.
Make no mistake, however. The adult Nietzsche—Radio Nietzsche—was never out to contest all “symbolic orders,” only those that threatened his own “order of rank.” Friedrich Kittler also cites the chamber pot passage from the teenaged Nietzsche, whom he places at the axial passage from the classical-romantic discourse network (“1800”) to the properly modern or postmodern (“1900”). Kittler describes this moment as “a primal scene, less well known but no less fraught with consequences than the despair of Faust in and over his study in the Republic of Scholars. This (the) scholar is replaced, however, by the very man of letters whom Faust made to appear magically as the redeemer from heaps of books.” For Kittler, however, the representative Nietzschean technology remained the typewriter, the increasingly blind Nietzsche being the first major philosopher to use this new technology designed for, and indeed by, the blind. With the typewriter and its “psychology” (as it came to be called in 1909), a certain epistemo-logical and ontological break arguably occurs within the discourse network: ‘“in place of the image of the word [in handwriting as somatic creation] there appears a geometrical figure created by the spatial arrangement of the letter keys.’ Indeed, a peculiar relationship to place defines the signi-fier: in contrast to everything in the Real, it can be and not be in its place.”
Heidegger criticized the invention of the typewriter as part of the “increasing destruction of the word” insofar as “the typewriter grabs script away from the essential domain of the hand—and this means that the hand is removed from the essential domain of the word,” “degrading the word to a mere means for the traffic of communication.” Nietzsche, too, had no use for “mere traffic in communication”—the very reason to invent the more properly prosthetic and oral transmission-reception system of Radio Nietzsche. It is not (just) radio in the literal sense, say, as the extension from the writing hand to the typewriter to the telegraph already known to Nietzsche. Rather, Radio Nietzsche is (also) radio in the sense of an authorial intent to communicate influence across space and time, as a probe into the future, as a mode of Spinozist immanent causality and actio in distans, just slightly beneath the surface of full cognition. As Kittler notes, the physical condition of Nietzsche (and, by extension, the paradigm shift from “1800” to “1900”), including his continually worsening eyesight, undoubtedly contributed less to his abandonment of Faustian books than to the production of a particular type of book, namely, the “first experiments with telegraphic style” in 1880 in The Wanderer and His Shadow —that is, even before he purchased his maladroit typewriter in 1882. But the material form of these experiments, by hand or by typewriter, was immaterial to Nietzsche. At stake, I argue, is a transmissive structure or discursive network of corps/e/‘ing. InEcce Homo: How One Becomes What One Is (1888), in the section “Why I Write Such Good Books,” Nietzsche claimed-in his now patented telegraph style—that “My eyes alone put an end to all book wormishness [Bucherwurmerei]: in plain language [auf deutsch]: philology: I was delivered from the ‘book,’ for years I read Nothing any more—the most charitable act I ever conferred upon myself!—That nethermost self [Jenes unterste Selbst] submerged, as it were, grown silent under the constant pressure of having to listen to other selves (—what reading means, after all!) awakened slowly, shyly, suspiciously,—but eventually it spoke again.” And when it spoke it (id, (a) was radio-active.
Nietzsche's periodic and increasing near-blindness was more than a physical ailment, more than a reiterated theme in his correspondence during the last years of his sanity. In response to Nietzsche's painful near-blindness, his secretary, the musician and composer Heinrich Koselitz (known as Peter Cast), encouraged Nietzsche in September 1888: “You have dragged your artillery to the highest mountains, you have guns such as have
Much of Nietzsche's original genius and subsequent afterlife lies in his extraordinary ability to transform (“sublimate,” one might suppose) his painful near-blindness and other illnesses (which appear to have been more somatic than psychological, which is also to say psychosomatic) into concepts—concepts that were “new” and hence to have these (in fact exceedingly “old”) concepts incorporated by readers beneath the surface of cognition by his ruse of reason. For their part, Deleuze and Guattari follow Spinoza, Nietzsche, and Marx to say that “The concept is an incorporeal, even though it is incarnated or effectuated in bodies.” Spinoza's principle of immanent causality, that the cause “indwells its effects,” eminently prefigures Marx's critique of leftist idealism: “The weapon of criticism cannot, of course, replace criticism by weapons, material force must be overthrown by material force; but theory also becomes a material force as soon as it has gripped the masses. Theory is capable of gripping the masses as soon as it demonstrates ad hominem, and it demonstrates ad hominem as soon as it becomes radical. To be radical is to grasp the root of the matter.” As most succinctly defined already by Kant, “an argumentum ad hominem is an argument that obviously is not true for everyone, but still serves to reduce someone to silence.” Nietzsche was a radical philosopher defined in just this sense; but his ideological and political commitment was the reverse of Marx's insofar as his centrum of radiographic transmission and incorporation was in principle esoteric and surreptitious, whereas the enlightenment commitment of Marx was to maximum possible exposure, rendering Marxism to date incapable of locating or even knowing about the Nietzschean centrum. In this regard Althusser was right to suggest that Nietzsche had
If I am on the right track, tracking Nietzsche correctly, whenever it speaks, Nietzsche's voice speaks “radio-actively.” Lacoue-Labarthe has suggested in his analysis of what he calls “the echo of the subject” that the modern subject has been formed—in a trajectory from Schopenhauer, Wagner, and Nietzsche to Theodor Reik—not only visually, representationally, under the sign of Apollo, but also under the sign of Dionysus. Which is to say musically, aurally, willfully, and as an echo not of “signification” but of a “significance” that is sensu stricto not “of the order of language.” Rather, in Lacoue-Labarthe's words, “it affects a language, and affects in the use of a language … its musical part, prosodic or melodic,” in order to produce a mode of communication and response “that is capable of offering infinitely greater material, according to Reik, than what is given to us by conscious perception.” But this is also why what is crucially at stake far Nietzsche is the production of a constitutive problem in Nietzsche, that of Stimmung—of voice, fine tuning, and mood. It remains here to illustrate how such a Nietzschean mood has been proleptically transmitted across space and time in and by Radio Nietzsche, in ways that “translators” and “creators” alike are unaware and that forge ostensibly rival “creations” and “translations” into the harmony of unacknowledged consensus. And when “class struggle in the specific element of theory” still today might be the more appropriate response, necessary though insufficient.