Literary Anarchy: Forgetting Nietzsche’s Umbrella

"It is the habitual carriage of the umbrella that is the stamp of respectability."--Stevenson, Philosophy of Umbrellas.

"i forgot my umbrella"--Nietzsche

"Jacques’ umbrella is alive and living in Paris."

"Sometimes [an umbrella] is just [an umbrella]."--Freud

There is an Anarchy of the Text. Yet Nietzsche would have no trouble diagnosing Post-Mortem textual Anarchy as a form of what he calls "literary decadence." For Nietzsche "the mark" of such decadence is that "life no longer resides in the whole." Though he would no doubt admire the brilliant sense of multiplicity that it sometimes achieves, he would certainly conclude that its focus on diversity comes "at the expense of the whole" so that "the whole is no longer a whole." Its Anarchy is not the Anarchy of life, of the organic, of the dynamic whole, but rather "the anarchy of atoms." [CW 626]

Post-Mortemist Literary Anarchy is a rebellion against the absurd concept that texts are autonomous totalities, textual organisms in which subtexts are textual organs, textual cells, textual organelles. But in their haste to murder the textual organism in order to dissect it, the Post-Mortemist anarchists ignore the larger ecology of the text. Their urge to deconstruct is an ecocidal urge also.

Derrida exhibits this impulse, the urge to deconstuct totality transmuted into an impulse to murder the whole, to deconstruct that which defies construction. He directs this ecocidal impulse toward a "whole" that he calls "Nietzsche’s text," quite appropriately invoking a Monster. Referring to a seemingly cryptic "fragment" found among Nietzsche’s papers, Derrida proposes:

To whatever lengths one might carry a conscientious interpretation, the hypothesis that the totality of Nietzsche’s text, in some monstrous way, might well be of the type, ‘I have forgotten my umbrella’ cannot be denied. Which is tantamount to saying that there is no ‘totality to Nietzsche’s text,’ not even a fragmentary or aphoristic one.11

Is it possible that a crucial difference between Nietzsche and Derrida consists in the fact that the former, when he has forgotten his umbrella, knows that it is in fact an umbrella that he, chaos that he is, has forgotten. Derrida on the other hand, might think that "il s’agit d’un texte, d’un texte en restance, voire oublié, peut-être d’un parapluie. Qu’on ne tient plus dans la main."12 Or, as Derrida’s English translator renders this idea, those who seek meaning in Nietzsche’s aphorism "must have forgotten that it is a text that is in question, the remains of a text, indeed a forgotten text. An umbrella perhaps. That one no longer has in hand."13

Here we come face to face with the Anarchy of undecidability. We peer into an anarchic abyss. We are perhaps about to be devoured by the Monster of Post-Mortemism.

It is striking that Derrida chooses as an example of undecidability a text that alludes to the forces of nature, and, indirectly, to protection from the forces of nature. For textualism is itself a metaphysical umbrella that protects one from those very forces. Such strange Anarchy has lost touch with the atmosphere. We are dealing here with l’oubli de l’atmosphère.14

According to Derrida’s English translator, "<<I have forgotten my umbrella.>>"15 is "[f]ragment classified no. 12,175 in the French translation of Joyful Wisdom, p. 457."16

According to Derrida, "<<J’ai oublié mon parapluie>>."17 is "[f]ragment classé avec la cote 12,175, tr. fr. du Gai savoir, p. 457."18

According to the original19 German: "ich habe meinen Regenschirm vergessen" is a note classified "Herbst 1881 12[62]" in Nietzsche’s collected works.20

On examining this "fragment," we find that Nietzsche not only "forgot his umbrella," he also forgot his punctuation. In this he is unlike Derrida and Derrida’s English translator, both of whom not only remembered this punctuation, but decided to give it back to Nietzsche. Interestingly, they appear to be incompetent to give him back his forsaken umbrella (no matter how severe the weather may be), yet they are perfectly capable of giving him back these little bits of forgotten text.

Furthermore, in view of Derrida’s case for undecidability, the nature of his (and his translator’s) restoration of Nietzsche’s text seems highly ironic. First, he helps restore Nietzsche’s ego, for Nietzsche seemingly defied the laws of punctuation in order to mark his "ich," even though it begins the statement, with a humble lower case "i." However, Derrida bestows on Nietzsche a majescule "J," reversing this self-effacement. Secondly, by restoring the initial capitalization, Derrida helps anchor the case of the umbrella firmly in time. Our floating forgotten umbrella affair now has a point of origination or initiation. And finally, in restoring the "period" he "puts a point" to the whole affair, as if the forgetting were previously held in suspension, but the umbrella is now, once and for all, and quite decisively, "forgotten."

Perhaps Derrida is right and this passage is undecidable, that is, in so far as it is a forgotten text, and therefore perhaps not about a forgotten umbrella. But how can it be nothing more than a forgotten text? Only in so far as we make a Derridean decision, a decision not to decide.

Jacques, you need to decide!

So we decide that it is une parapluie. We decide that it is un parasol. We decide that it is a shield against the domineering light of the Sun, that image of hierarchical power and domination. We decide that it is une ombrelle. We decide that it is un nombril. We decide that it is le nombril du monde. We decide that it is the axis of imagination around which turns the wheel of fate. We decide that it is the vast Nietzschean umbrella, which points to the heavens, to the heights, to the lightness of Dionysius, and which opens up to infinity.

We decide, on the other hand, that it is a sad little text signifying that poor Nietzsche forgot his umbrella.

Nietzsche As Prophet Of Pre-Ancientism

As we have seen, Nietzsche is not much of a Post-Mortemist (though he may be the Post-Mortemist’s best friend!). And we have begun to discover that he is, at least in his best moments, a Pre-Ancientist. Let us call this Nietzsche "Pre-Ancientist Nietzsche" or PAN. The allusion to the pagan god is appropriately Nietzschean. For Pan, "this dangerous presence dwelling just beyond the protected zone of the village boundary" is the Arcadian counterpart to the Thracian god Dionysius, Nietzsche’s favorite deity.21 And as Bulfinch points out concerning Pan, "the name of the god signifies all," and Pan "came to be considered a symbol of the universe and personification of Nature," and later to be regarded as "a representative of all the gods and of heathenism itself."22 PAN is the Nietzsche of pagan celebration, the Niezsche of love of the Earth, the Nietzsche of life-affirmation, the Nietzsche of generosity and gift-giving.

PAN celebrates and endows with eternity that which appears. He "saves the phenomena" or "saves appearances" ("sauve les dehors") so to speak.

A certain emperor always bore in mind the transitoriness of all things so as not to take them too seriously and to live at peace among them. To me, on the contrary, everything seems far too valuable to be so fleeting: I seek an eternity for everything: ought one to pour the most precious salves and wines into the sea? [WP 547-548] His vision reminds us of another great Pre-Ancientist and anarchist, William Blake, who famously "held infinity in the palm of his hand" and saw "Eternity in an hour." Exactly such an affirmation of being becoming in all its diversity and particularity is the core of PAN’s enigmatic doctrine of the Eternal Recurrence. It signifies the infinite depth and richness of the present moment valued for its own being, not for any end beyond itself.23

Accordingly, PAN excludes only one philosopher from his general condemnation of the history of Western philosophy.

With the highest respect, I except the name of Heraclitus. When the rest of the philosophic folk rejected the testimony of the senses because they showed multiplicity and change, he rejected their testimony because they showed things as if they had permanence and unity. Heraclitus too did the senses an injustice. They lie neither in the way the Eleatics believed, nor as he believed--they do not lie at all . . . . But Heraclitus will remain eternally right with his assertion that being is an empty fiction. The ‘apparent’ world is the only one: the ‘true’ world is merely added by a lie. [TI 480-481]

PAN gives his fellow Pre-Ancientist Heraclitus well-deserved recognition, but does the latter an injustice in regard to his view of the senses. For Heraclitus the senses do and do not lie. And if they lie it is only to reveal truth through their lies. Heraclitus did the senses complete justice when he said "he prefers things that can be seen, heard and perceived."

Pre-Ancientism is a critique of the illusions of centrism. And Nietzsche is one of the great critics of all centrisms, including anthropocentrism. "If we could communicate with the mosquito, then we would learn that it floats through the air with the same self-importance, feeling within itself the flying center of the world." [TL 42] This is the message of Lao Tzu also: the universe does not revolve around us (unless we adopt a metaphysics worthy of a mosquito). "Heaven and Earth are not humane. They regard all things as straw dogs. The sage is not humane. He regards all people as straw dogs."24 PAN directs us back to pre-Ancient times, before the blockheads carved nature up, geometricized the world and prepared it for domination. The crucial step was the replacement of the multitude of spiritual centers with a centering of power in the ego.

Yet Nietzsche has been seen as a kind of philosophical egoist. One of the great Nietzschean ironies is that this critic of the heroic has so often been reduced to a rather adolescent sort of hero-worshiper. His reflections on the will point in a quite different direction. According to Zarathustra, "all ‘it was’ is a fragment, a riddle, a dreadful accident--until the creative will says to it, ‘But thus I willed it.’ Until the creative will says to it, ‘But thus I will it; thus shall I will it.’" [Z 253] One might ask who this self is that can be said to have willed all things, wills all things, and shall will all things. The small self with its small will seems to become a great self with a vast will. What is the meaning of this riddle that Zarathustra poses to us?

We find that this person with "creative will" is one who rejects another sort of will--the heroic will--and renounces the rebellion against nature. Such a person is, as that most anarchic of Pre-Ancientists, Chuang Tzu, calls her, the "man without desire," who "does not disturb his inner well-being with likes and dislikes," the "true man of old," who "accepted what he was given with delight, and when it was gone, . . . gave it no thought."25 Whoever possesses a "creative will" accepts life, experience, and the flow of being, the appearance of phenomena, as a gift, and realizes that one can never have a proprietary claim on any gift.26

While Heroic will is bound to the Spirit of Gravity and takes everything seriously, the creative will expresses the Spirit of Levity, and takes everything lightly. Nietzschean Anarchy knows the anarchic power of laughter.27 "Learn to laugh at yourselves as one must laugh!" says Zarathustra [Z 404] Elsewhere he explains that it is through laughter that we kill monsters. So as we learn to laugh we learn to kill the self. We slay the Dragon of the Ego. As I-Hsüan said, "if you seek after the Buddha, you will be taken over by the Devil of the Buddha, and if you seek after the Patriarch, you will be taken over by the Devil of the Patriarch." So:

Kill anything that you happen on. Kill the Buddha if you happen to meet him. Kill a Patriarch or an Arhat if you happen to meet him. Kill your parents or relatives if you happen to meet them. Only then can you be free, not bound by material things, and absolutely free and at ease. . . . I have no trick to give people. I merely cure disease and set people free.28

When one laughs at the self one becomes other than the self that is laughed at. One finally gets the joke that is the ego.

Listen to PAN’s diagnosis of the causes of the awful ego-sickness of ressentimentt:

For every sufferer instinctively seeks a cause for his suffering; more exactly, an agent; still more specifically, a guilty agent who is susceptible to suffering--in short, some living thing upon which he can, on some pretext or other, vent his affects, actually or in effigy: for the venting of his affects represents the greatest attempt on the part of the suffering to win relief, anaesthesia--the narcotic he cannot help desiring to deaden the pain of any kind.] [BGE 563]

PAN comes to much the same conclusion as does Gautama concerning this subject: our mental disturbances are rooted in suffering, a false view of causality, and the illusion of the separate ego. Our constructed ego cuts us off from the whole, we resist the flow of energies, we fight against the movement, we seek to step into the same river of selfhood again and again, we blame reality and time, we seek revenge through whatever convenient target presents itself.

PAN might have become an even more skilled physician of culture had he followed Gautama further in exploring the connection between ego, suffering, and compassion. He travels part of the way on this path as he reflects on eternal recurrence and amor fati. Just as he goes part of the way down the path of that other great old Anarchic Doctor, Lao Tzu. PAN tears away ruthlessly at some of our most deeply-rooted illusions about ourselves. "Beyond your thoughts and feelings, my brother, there stands a mighty ruler, and unknown sage--whose name is self. In your body he dwells; he is your body." [Z 146] It is true that he here describes the body as the true self, the "great reason," that acts though the ego and the "little reason." But he shows also that he sometimes thinks beyond this body. Zarathustra slips and gives away PAN’s more profound view when he says that "the mighty ruler" not only "is your body," but is also greater than the body and "dwells in your body." [Z 146] This is the self of the self of the ego-self, the great reason of the great reason of the little reason. For PAN, our embodiedness carries us not only beyond our little self toward a larger self, but beyond our little body toward a larger body. As Lao Tzu says, "He who loves the world as his body may be entrusted with the empire."29

It is this wisdom of the body that is at the heart of PAN’s anarchic critique of the domineering ego and its herioc will. Domination has always rested on the hierarchical exaltation of the "world of man"--the human world--over the world of nature, and of the "world of man"--the masculine world--over all that is feminine or childlike. PAN is in accord with Lao Tzu’s anti-hierarchichal prioritizing of the childlike and feminine aspects of the psyche. Zarathustra praises the child as "innocence and forgetting, a new beginning, a game, a self-propelled wheel, a first movement, a sacred ‘Yes.’" [Z 139] Lao Tzu goes one step further, asserting that "he who possesses virtue in abundance may be compared to an infant."30 Zarathustra surpasses even this, urging us to "to be the child who is newly born," and noting that to do this, "the creator must also want to be the mother who gives birth and the pangs of the birth-giver." [Z 199] An image that Lao Tzu also evokes when he asks, "can you play the role of the female in the opening and closing of the gates of Heaven?"31 This is the secret of Nietzschean Anarchy--the opening of oneself to these forces of spontaneity, creativity, generosity, affirmation.

Nietzschean Anarchy is PAN’s Dionysian dance. It is child’s play. It is beginner’s mind.



1 References to Nietzsche’s works will be indicated in brackets by the abbreviated title and page number. See the bibliography of Nietzsche’s works below for titles and abbreviations.

2 God(is-Dead)Father of Post-Mortemism.

3 Journal of Value Inquiry 42:271.

4 The many Nietzsches are often brilliant, witty, satirical, ironic, incisive, analytical, subtle, intelligent, and profound, but not infrequently also superficial, pretentious, heavy-handed, pathetic, spiteful, petty, fatuous, and buffoonish. It would be tempting to turn our surre(gion)al travelogue into "A Tale of Two Nietzsches." However, we will limit our visit for the most part to "The Best of Nietzsches." There is, however, "The Worst of Nietzsches," and this worst can be indeed abysmal. The abysmal Nietzsche emerges for example in a statement, quite appropriately, on the topic of "depth." A man, he says, "who has depth, in his spirit as well as in his desires . . . must always think about women as Orientals do; he must conceive of woman as a possession, as property that can be locked, as something predestined for service and achieving her perfection in that." [BGE 357] And savor the exquisite odor of this statement: "We would no more choose the ‘first Christians’ to associate with than Polish Jews--not that one even required any objection to them: they both do not smell good." [A 625] On Nietzsche as a pretentious buffoon, see Friedrich Nietzsche, Ecce Homo, part two, "Why I am So Clever," and part five, "Why I am Such an Asshole."

5 Bizarre, though to be honest, has there ever been a careful study of anarchist groups to see what proportion of their members are hysterical celibates or sterile alcoholics? Perhaps there is grant money somewhere.

6 Though this still redoutable personnage, apparently thinking that rumors of his demise have been greatly exaggerated, lives on in certain circles in a state of indefinitely suspended senility. Some have accused the devotees of the patriarchal authoritarian God with worshiping a "white male God." But their God really is a white male. How do we know? As criminologists have pointed out, that’s the exact profile for a serial killer.

7 Despite all their anarchic pretentions, the failure of Post-Mortemists to join in this resistance constitutes a de facto collaborationism.

8 PM=late.

9 Murray Bookchin, Re-enchanting Humanity: A Defense of the Human Spirit Against Anti-Humanism, Misanthropy, Mysticism and Primitivism (London: Cassell, 1995), p. 179.

10 Yes, Nietzsche did indeed say that "our buts grow out of us with the necessity with which a tree bears fruit""--another comment on the decadent life of the scholar, perhaps.

11 Jacques Derrida, Spurs: Nietzsche’s Styles (Chicago: University of Chicago Press), pp. 133, 135.

12 Ibid., p. 130.

13 Ibid., p. 131.

14 See Max Cafard, "Derrida’s Secret Name: Or, What Transpired in the Auditorium of Gaea and Logos" in Exquisite Corpse 38 (1992): 2-3.

15 Derrida, p. 123. Guillemets in the original.

16 Ibid., p. 159. Reversed italics in the original.

17 Ibid., p. 123.

18 Ibid., p. 159. Reversed italics in the original.

19 N.B.: "the original," that is, as it is represented in a book, and herewith re-represented. We feel compelled to admit that the following is not actually Nietzsche’s scap of paper.

20 Friedrich Nietzsche, Sämtliche Werke, (München and Berlin: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag and Walter de Gruyter, 1980), Band 9, p. 587.

21 Joseph Campbell, The Hero With A Thousand Faces (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1968), p. 81.

22 Thomas Bulfinch, Bulfinch’s Mythology (New York: Modern Library, N.D.), p. 136.

23 Though some humorists say that it means that everything occurs over and over and over and . . . . We will call this the Twilight Zone interpretation.

24 Tao te Ching [The Lao Tzu] in Wing-Tsit Chan, A Sourcebook in Chinese Philosophy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton Un. Press, 1963), p. 141.

25 Chuang-Tzu, Inner Chapters (New York: Vintage Books, 1974), pp. 108, 114.

26 As Nietzsche states it with unusual eloquence, "no one is free to be a crab." [TI 547] His point is that we must always go "forward"--even if "downward" into decadence. A crab (in Nietzsche’s particular imaginary zoology) backs away from and rejects this gift of life, growth, change, transformation.

27 This does not mean, however, that Nietzsche was funny, for unfortunately he was not. I once attended a lecture in which a philosophy professor spoke at great length on the topic of "Nietzsche and Humor." His thesis was that Nietzsche was a member of that rare species -- the funny philosopher! The Professor assured the audience that Nietzsche's works were replete with humorous discussions, funny one-liners and hilarious episodes. Indeed, he revealed that when he reads Nietzsche he is often moved to smile, and even to laugh out loud! What he did not reveal was one single hilarious line from the entire collected works of Nietzsche, though this did not prevent many members of the audience from smiling broadly and even chuckling a bit. Apparently, the highly-developed sense of humor cultivated by certain professors of philosophy allows them to extract a certain quantum of hilarity from statements like "Nietzsche is funny." Or did they get the other joke?

28 "The Recorded Conversations of Zen Master I-Hsüan" in Chan, p. 447.

29 Ibid., p. 145

30 Ibid., p. 165.

31 Ibid., p. 144.


Works of Nietzsche Cited

A Friedrich Nietzsche, The Antichrist in The Portable Nietzsche, trans. Walter Kauffman (New York: Penguin, 1976).

BGE Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil in Basic Writings of Nietzsche, trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Modern Library, 1968).

CW Friedrich Nietzsche, The Case of Wagner in Basic Writings of Nietzsche, trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Modern Library, 1968).

GM Friedrich Nietzsche, The Genealogy of Morals in Basic Writings of Nietzsche, trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Modern Library, 1968).

GS Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science, trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Vintage Books, 1974).

TI Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols in The Portable Nietzsche, trans. Walter Kauffman (New York: Penguin, 1976).

TL Friedrich Nietzsche, "On Truth and Lie in an Extra-Moral Sense," in The Portable Nietzsche, trans. Walter Kauffman (New York: Penguin, 1976).

WP Friedrich Nietzsche, The Will to Power, trans. Walter Kauffman (New York: Vintage, 1968).

Z Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra in The Portable Nietzsche, trans. Walter Kauffman (New York: Penguin, 1976).

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