Novalis, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche: Ascetic Ideal (Part III)

Being in-decision:

I was pleased to come across this article entitled Why a Theory of Value? shortly after posting Part II on tacit axiology.

In Marxism, the top reason for a labour theory of value, Matthijs Krul argues, is that “all capital reduces to labour, at least as an input”. A similar parallel may be made here with philosophy itself. The top reason for this “tacit axiology” of non-philosophy is that, much in the same way, all philosophy reduces to a decision which is external to and constitutive of philosophy. A heretical suspension of this decision, a removal of the truth conditions, renders Non-philosophy as the “infinite task” of the love of wisdom.

Here is a quick, useful diagram of Laruelle’s Non-philosophy in contrast to Neo-platonism which shows this relationship:




In Part I, I argued in favor of a Nietzschean “forgetting” of Novalis’ transcendental realism, which would translate to an backward arrow from force of thought to the determination-in-the-last-instance, perhaps placed under erasure (sous rature). Perhaps it is clear that one cannot truly forget transcendental realism, at least not without remembering it in the joyous affirmation of the New. Hence there is effectuation in the opposite direction, as indicated in the diagram.

To paint the world non-violent, then, is this not akin to Novalis’ battle cry to “romanticize the world!” in essence? No, this is not so, since we have to forget Novalis in order to arrive at non-violence. This amounts to realizing that one is the pallet, the paint-brush, the canvas, the paint, and all of these things. This is to live finally in a non-violent world.

Here, Novalis must recognize his own violence and maybe take Rilke’s advice to absolutely change his life. A conception of non-violence thoughtaction is much more sophisticated than a mere normative plea, and the liberal pacifism is rightly criticized as naive. It requires, as we have seen, a spinning which amounts to a determination-in-the-last-instance.

This hidden reverse-effectuation is what seems to mark the “tacitness” of our axiology, as it is this more subtle force (of) thought behind our insistence on in-the-last-instance which is found in periods of Crisis — by-passing the Decision. As I concluded in my previous post, the Two must be brought together in the One – Philosophy and Anti-Philosophy – like a particle pair annihilation, and come together in an emission of the New.


Now, it is precisely this an-nihilism which allows us to escape the threat of nihilism with our joyous affirmation of life.

Yet, such a reaction takes a toll as it were on one’s pride, as this affirmation of life implies an equal-but-opposite affirmation of death, as indicated most famously by Freud’s notion of (death) drive. I’d like to toil a bit with these remarks in the lecture “Philosophy and Desire” from Badiou’s Infinite Thought:

My hypothesis is that although philosophy is ill, it is less ill than it thinks it is, less ill than it says it is. One of the characteristics of contemporary philosophy is to elaborate page after page on its own mortal illnesses. But you know, when it is the patient who says he is ill, there is always a chance that it is at least in part an imaginary illness. And I think that this is the case, because the world itself, despite all the negative pressures it exerts on the desire of philosophy, the world, that is the people who live in it and think in it, this world, is asking something of philosophy. Yet philosophy is too morose to respond due to the morbidity of its own vision of itself. (credit here)

There is much truth to what Badiou says, and Being and Event shows us that there is another way out of our post-modern sickness. For this reason, Badiou should be held in high esteem as he brings us to focus on the positive elements of identity – a clean break from the Hegelian focus on pure negativity. Yet, does he move too far in this direction, leaving the sick to wrestle among themselves?

There is something to be said for Badiou’s truth conditions. From the perspective of the World, where art and science and politics may be out of the question, Badiou may come across as exhibiting a certain impulse of a problematic mastery. Can we read, perhaps controversially, Zupančič’s The Fifth Condition as rightly being a radical elimination of all truth conditions? Let’s dance!

I have only just begun reading In Praise of Love, but it should be noted in advance that love seems to be the condition which is most accessible to all – and perhaps it is one which can be universalized so as to supersede over the others. I wonder sometimes if one could associate politics with “prophesy”, art with “faith”, science with “hope”, and continue to read the entire chapter of 1 Corinthians 13 along these lines. Of course, the greatest of these is love. In any event, with this established let us begin by returning to consider Alenka Zupančič’s work for a moment, in conjunction with Nietzsche and Novalis:

Zupančič has recently described ‘the figure of the two’ as Nietzsche’s most radical gesture. As in Novalis’ understanding of ‘illness’, she explains the logic of the ascetic ideal as the irreducible doubleness of life and death as follows: ‘That which, in a decadent way, turns against life (the “ascetic ideal”) is itself something that springs from life … the opposition of life and death, the tension between them, becomes the very definition of life. Life is two things: it is life and it is death; it is the living edge between them. Therefore, death, in the emphatic sense of the word, is the death of this edge, the end of this tension, the fall into one or the other …which is always the fall into One’ (Zupančič 2003, pp. 18–19).

What does it take to fill a life, to live fully?:

The aim of Nietzsche’s Third Treatise is “…to bring to light, not what [the ascetic] ideal has done, but simply what it means; what it indicates; what lies hidden behind it, beneath it, in it; of what it is the provisional, indistinct expression, overlaid with question marks and misunderstandings” (§23). Or, one might say, that what it means is the same as what fills it with meaning.

What does it take to fill a life, to live fully? It takes a refutation of the will to power.  In other words, the question is ill-posed. Instead of opting for a definition of life as “empty” in need of filling, just as Heidegger would define the Thing by its void, we must begin to see the positive content of life itself, and take this as our starting point.  If, for Nietzsche, the “[W]orld is the will to power—and nothing besides!” then struggle is the default state of Man.

Nietzsche here conducts a sort of categorization in which he begins with the artist, for whom the ascetic ideal means “nothing or too many things”. He draws upon the music of Richard Wagner to show how Wagner defers to Schopenhauer. He then turns to the philosopher, for whom “sense and instinct for the most favorable conditions of higher spirituality” mark the meaningful life. He traces it back, from there, back to the priest.

The ascetic ideal, then, becomes important insofar as it amounts to a withdrawal from the World. This move of withdrawal is crucial, because it determines whether the world is sustained as such or not. The ascetic ideal is at once the most dangerous and the most liberatory maneuver. A removal from the world places one into the state of Schelling’s Potenzen, into the impossible, the unprethinkable, the undecidable, etc. so as to confront directly the conditions of possibility which make up the World as it is.

As Ernst Bertram and Norton Robert Edward note in their work Nietzsche: Attempt at a Mythology, page 115, this withdrawal is a descent into illness:


I find myself wanting to quote the entire chapter six on illness (see here), but let it suffice to say that from this space and this space only that one either can strengthen the conditions of possibility of the World or begin to dismantle them.

In the same way, it is as though Badiou serves as the prophet of this art, and through his Maoism he tries to provide answers and guidance. It is vitally important in today’s day and age to be a heretic if one cares about suffering. The authors continue by implicitly – and correctly I believe – suggesting that perhaps Paul himself is the biggest anti-Pauline thinker and that Nietzsche’s thought is extremely faithful to this sentiment. Maoism today, ideologically speaking, places an strong emphasis on self-critical. Either way, it is clear that self-overcoming is key.

Can Badiou overcome himself? Personally, I am not so sure of this, and I plan to write on the subject in the future.

There is therefore a very, very good reason for Nietzsche (and everyone else) to target Christianity. Historically, in the course of Nietzsche’s genealogy, the religious monopoly as it were on the ascetic ideal has led to a strengthening and re-affirmation of the will to power while, following my reading of Nietzsche, the aim is to transform the Jungian “collective unconscious” into a positivity of the biological, immanent body.

From Gregory Moore’s Nietzsche, Biology and Metaphor:

Instead of emphasising the organism’s relationship to its environment or the influence of the struggle for existence, Nietzsche locates the primary motor of evolution in an endogenous creative force: ‘The influence of “external circumstances” is exaggerated by D[arwin] to a ridiculous extent; the essential thing in the vital process is precisely the tremendous shaping force which creates forms from within and which utilises, exploits the “external circumstances” ’ (VIII 1, 7[25]). This vital energy, of course, is what Nietzsche calls the ‘will to power’. Some of the earliest outlines which he drew up for his projected major work, The Will to Power, clearly show that, from the very beginning, he intended this agency to explain not only ‘the evolution of organic beings’ (VII 3, 39[13]), but also all organic processes: ‘With the animal it is possible to derive all of its drives from the will to power: likewise, all functions of organic life can be derived from this one source’ (VII 3, 36[31]).

This self-overcoming brings about a “second nature”, as Nietzsche writes.

It is the illness of this withdrawal that frees one from the threat of nihilism and brings one back into the World, this time not merely against the World but also for the World. The weight of this second nature is to be placed wholly on the physical and mental health of the biological organism: such is the task of developing a phenomenology of Life in the One.

Daniel W. Conway, and Peter S. Groff offer us a very nice conclusion of Novalis in Nietzsche: Critical Assessments Vol. 3, page 145:


Thus, we must turn back to the theologians in order to see how, if it is possible, to develop a positive account of the body. The theologian must now be prepared to actually get their hands dirty for once, and part from their infectious rhetorics, adopting a focus upon this Nietzschean second nature.

Works Cited:

Badiou, Alain, and Justin Clemens. Infinite thought: truth and the return to philosophy. London: Continuum, 2003. Print.

Badiou, Alain, and Nicolas Truong. In praise of love. London: Serpent’s Tail, 2012. Print.

Bertram, Ernst, and Robert Edward Norton.Nietzsche: attempt at a mythology. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2009. Print.

Brassier, Ray. Nihil unbound: enlightenment and extinction. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007. Print.

Conway, Daniel W., and Peter S. Groff. “Infectious Reading.” Nietzsche: critical assessments. Volume 3. ed. London: Routledge, 1998. 145. Print.

Hallward, Peter. “The Fifth Condition.” Think again Alain Badiou and the future of philosophy. London: Continuum, 2004. 191. Print.

Moore, Gregory, and Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche. Nietzsche, biology, and metaphor. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2002. Print.

Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm, and Walter Arnold Kaufmann. On the genealogy of morals. New York: Vintage Books, 1967. Print.

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3 thoughts on “Novalis, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche: Ascetic Ideal (Part III)”

  1. Yes. Thank you for this. The labor as ‘an input’. If the ‘forgetting’ is the of the labor that is already put in, the defining of the individual in reality: the priority discourse: conventional reality, then the withdrawal might be understood as of a bank: The faithful have invested their savings (identity of progress) in the bank so they can forget about it. Learning is as remembering. Against conventional reality such a withdrawal, if the ‘bank’ is the ‘law’, is ascetic. If I can take such marks made by Nietchze and others, as marks of a qualitative motion of history, then the ‘return’ is, indeed, of an ascetic, of what it means, as you quote. For Zarathustra returned from his mountain, as we eventually see we should, but I would have to say, he does it with an loud and insistent ‘Veto’; but seeing the violent proclamations of Zarathustra did not work (and as the qualitative mark), one then proceeds non-violently, with the ‘minimal’ amount needed that can still called ‘violent’, a ‘pocket veto’, but in comparison to the violence enacted in ignorance and denial, it is indeed non-violent.

    Perhaps, though, we can imagine he does not return, but remains, such that the world is ‘painted’ from there, not an illusion or romance, but as the absolute withdrawal that demands as it acquiesces: irony, in constant supplication to not only God, but Anti-God, the world. Steadfast. Resolute. Determined in every activity contingent only upon God-Anti-God.

    I do not say this to reject, but to include, to situate, to tell what it means.


    I will reply to your reply on the Impossible shortly.

    Peace be with you.

  2. I am going to try this again. It seems I leave replies in your blogs, but then they disappear. If you get this here can you reply to me on my blog. I read this again and got more from it, and replied, it it is not here. Do you know why?

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