RessentimentMaster

RessentimentMaster - 1 Ressentiment and...

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1 Ressentiment and Counter- Ressentiment : Nietzsche, Scheler, and the Reaction Against Equality by Nicholas Birns One of the thorniest concepts in the Nietzschean lexicon is ressentiment . In order to understand the strange trajectory of that term in English-speaking culture, we need, in an appropriately Nietzschean way, to go into the term’s genealogy and the genealogy of Nietzsche’s canonicity in the Anglophone world itself. Something we tend to forget in the English-speaking world is that the first impact of Nietzsche was felt, broadly speaking, on the Left. In England, there was George Bernard Shaw. In America, the leading Left-Nietzscheans were Jack London, whose anguished vacillation between Nietzschean individualism and Marxist collectivism is recorded in his vigorous and thoughtful novels, The Sea Wolf , and Martin Eden ; and H. L. Mencken, who saw Nietzsche as a prod in his savage, satiric debunking of complacent American truisms. The Nietzschean vogue of the 1910s was ended less by the misappropriation of Nietzsche by the Nazis in the 1930s than by the anti-German hysteria that erupted after the US entered the First World War; even a thinker such as Nietzsche who would have been hardly enthusiastic about Germany’s role in the war was deemed suspect. Much of the relativism of the 1920s, though, bore a surreptitiously Nietzschean imprint–from the permissiveness of the Jazz Age to the “revolt against the village” (to use Carl Van Doren’s phrase) of Sherwood Anderson and Sinclair Lewis. Literary
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2 figures such as, overtly, Eugene O‘Neill, and, covertly, Ernest Hemingway (whose ‘code’ has a highly Nietzschean tinge to it) kept the Mencken-London tradition alive long after it had vanished from the salons. But up until about 1950 or so, Nietzsche was a blank space in the American academy. The novelist William Gass, for instance, in a recent review of Curtis Cate’s Nietzsche biography in the August 2005 Harper’s , states that he did not read Nietzsche when he went to college, which would have been in the late 1940s. After the Second World War, Nietzsche received an academic boost from his role as a precursor of existentialism and by the serious translations and studies undertaken by Walter Kaufmann and Francis Golffing. This Nietzsche was less political than Mencken’s Nietzsche, far more refined (whereas the Mencken/London Nietzsche was vigorous and working-class, the Kaufmann-era Nietzsche was more a cocktail-arty phenomenon), and had its center of gravity pulled away from Thus Spake Zarathustra toward The Birth of Tragedy . This was the era when “Apollonian” and “Dionysian” became household words, at least in the household of the American intellectual. In a later generation, the use of Nietzsche became more sophisticated and even more recondite, as Nietzsche’s demolishing of the idols was troped as deconstruction, and his genealogy was taken up, in both letter and spirit, by Foucault. Like many in my generation, I approached Nietzsche reading backward from de Man,
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