What do we mean by “consciousness” and what do we mean by “I” and “Self”? Nietzsche’s reflections on these questions remain immensely influential, though they are deeply problematic. Nietzsche clearly rejects the thesis that consciousness should be seen as the “kernel of man” (FW 11), he considers the “I” of consciousness to be a “fiction”, and he argues that both a metaphysical, Cartesian Subject and a Kantian and Schopenhauerian Transcendental Subject are no more than fictional constructions based on the grammar of human language, as well as on instinctive needs of human beings living in society. But on the other hand, he does not abandon either the concept of consciousness or the concept of “soul”, which he rethinks as “mortal soul” and “soul as subject-multiplicity” (JGB 12). In Z I, he distinguishes between “I” and “Self”, and he asserts that the “Self” is in fact “the body”. In Daybreak, and especially in the Nachlass, he argues that the “so-called I” is a fiction, but this fiction cannot simply be eradicated from our first-personal experience (or, in other words, that “fiction” will always remain a very powerful “fiction” in our experience of ourselves). Moreover, his philosophy is expressed in a type of discourse which is remarkably personal, individual, perspectival, and in some sense subjective. In order to express not so much the essence of Nietzsche’s alleged “doctrines” on subjectivity as rather the problematic nature of his views, we should perhaps say that his procedure is intended to experiment with the paradox of conceiving of a sort of “subjectivity without a subject”.
Nietzsche’s critique of the “subject” is mostly known for its influence upon the so-called “post-structuralist” thinkers (like Deleuze, Foucault or Derrida) and it is at the origin of the debate on “the death of the subject”. Usually, it is also discussed in connection with Heidegger and other so-called “continental” thinkers. However, in the last ten to fifteen years, it has become of increasing importance to the Anglo-American tradition, not least to many who are interested in contemporary Philosophy of Mind and “analytic” philosophy. Many of Nietzsche’s ideas — for example, his rejection of dualism, his naturalistic project of “retranslating man back to Nature” (JGB 230), his insistence on “physiology”, his questioning of the philosophical significance of the fact that man has evolved by natural selection, his conception of consciousness as a “surface”, his conception of rationality as dependent upon the “life” of our “drives and affects”, and so on — coincide with most contemporary approaches to the Mind/ Body problem, and particularly to the question about the “Self”.
Accordingly, the crucial idea of our project is to use Nietzsche’s thought to foster the contemporary debate on the Self both from the perspective of “continental” and “post-structuralist” thought and from the perspective of Anglo-American philosophy of mind (and philosophy of language). To those who find this odd and perhaps even absurd, we answer that it is certainly less productive to keep two philosophical traditions apart (and to label them as irreconcilable) than to investigate why they are currently engaged in interpreting and studying the same author — Nietzsche. Thus, what is at stake for us is not a merely philological or historical interpretation of Nietzsche, but, rather a discussion relevant the future of philosophy. Our main focus is on the new directions philosophy may take in the future via the contemporary debate on the Self, and particularly on the role Nietzsche’s thought might be able to play in reshaping this debate.
Accordingly, the crucial idea of our project was to use Nietzsche’s thought to foster the contemporary debate on the Self both from the perspective of “continental” and “post-structuralist” thought and from the perspective of Anglo-American philosophy of mind (and philosophy of language). To those who find this odd and perhaps even absurd, we answer that it is certainly less productive to keep two philosophical traditions apart (and to label them as irreconcilable) than to investigate why they are currently engaged in interpreting and studying the same author — Nietzsche. Thus, what was at stake for us was not a merely philological or historical interpretation of Nietzsche, but, rather a discussion that we deemed relevant for the future of philosophy.
This research project was funded by the Portuguese Ministry of Education and Science’s Foundation for research (FCT, ref. PTDC/FIL-FIL/111444/2009). It was successfully concluded in July 2014.
Be plural like the universe! - Fernando Pessoa
What is disagreeable and offends my modesty is that at bottom
I am every name in history. - Friedrich Nietzsche
This project’s theme, “The Plurality of the Subject”, is one of the most fundamental and pertinent issues in modern philosophy and literature which Friedrich Nietzsche and Fernando Pessoa penetrate and embody most deeply and whose paths cross over in various ways and aspects. Nietzsche’s critique of the subject, or man’s subjectivity, and in what sense man’s identity can or cannot be understood in terms of the concept of an “I” or “subject” has had a massive influence on certain thinkers (Deleuze, Foucault, Derrida) in the second half of the twentieth century that ended in the debate of “the death of the subject”. However, what is only now being acknowledged in the last two decades in Nietzsche research is that the critique of the subject or subjective thinking in Nietzsche’s philosophy, rather than being dead, is itself a plurality.
Nietzsche’s critique of the subject implies the rejection of the “Cartesian theatre” and suggests a more complex conception of consciousness and a subject that embodies plurality and multiplicity. What is especially important and new in this project is the juxtaposition of Nietzsche with the twentieth century Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa. In exploring subjective thinking as plurality, juxtaposing Pessoa with Nietzsche is an incredibly productive way to exploring this theme for a number of reasons.
First, Pessoa, like Nietzsche, is always preoccupied with the issue of the subject in both literature and philosophy and which he tries to transpose and transfer more than any other writer onto the page. As the infinite, self-multiplied traveler, Pessoa wrote on a scrap of paper in the same year that he created his three most famous heteronyms (Caeiro, Reis and Campos) to “be plural like the universe”, and his “will to power” was manifested in his endless creating of various personas and styles.
Second, there are various points of convergence under the project theme of “the plurality of the subject” between Pessoa and Nietzsche that today demand research and study in order to understand more deeply these two very complex writers, such as in their abiding interest and exploration of consciousness, the relation between genius and madness, truth as metaphor, the various forms of travel, the mask and/or the artist as liar, the boundary between philosophy and poetry, becoming what you are, the question of identity (remembering the opening two words from Shakespeare’s Hamlet: “Who’s there?”), the relation between fate and free-will, and creativity as multiplicity.
Third, as part of the first generation after Nietzsche in Europe, Pessoa thought about and appropriated Nietzsche and even incorporated some of Nietzsche’s thinking and styles into his own work which is yet to be fully explored. Obvious examples are in Álvaro de Campos' manifesto of Nietzschean parody - “Ultimatum” (1916), his intoxicated and emancipated epics - “Triumphal Ode” (1915) and “Maritime Ode” (1915). Campos (as Pessoa’s super-ego) shares his birthday (15th October) with Nietzsche, which is taken very seriously by Pessoa. Also, we witness the shadow of Nietzsche in Ricardo Reis’s reflections on paganism, fate, and the problem of Christianity, António Mora’s “Return of the Gods” and writings on Germany culture and metaphysics; and the “superior God-man” and “poet of nature” in Alberto Caeiro.
With the orthonym Pessoa himself, we discover the influence of Nietzsche in Pessoa’s reflections on the “Will” in modern German philosophy, the concept of creativity in the artist, the problem of epistemology in his philosophical writings, and his fervent votary of a spiritually bombastic political ideal that subverts Old Testament mythology (in this case, the Book of Daniel, chapter 2) such as his doctrine of the “Fifth Empire” which will be an “imperialism of poets” led by a community of great souls. Finally, Pessoa’s cultivation of his solitude and loneliness especially in his final years harks back to the life-philosophy of solitude and the higher man in Nietzsche’s last years.
Fourth, in investigating the “plurality of the subject”, it is vital to show why Nietzsche and Pessoa are “fingidores” or feigners par excellence in their highly conscious endeavor to continually deceive and surprise the reader, to reveal the problem of truth which is a “dynamic void” (Campos) and “mobile army of metaphors, metonyms, and anthropomorphisms” (Nietzsche). If there is any chance of finding this elusive self as subject, we must lose that self first, in the total dilution of the self as subject in the quest for the self as subject. This project will explore the idea that Nietzsche and Pessoa’s desire is to create forms which would capture a multiple self, the self as process rather than product.
This project brings together leading international specialists in Nietzsche and Pessoa studies for the first time. Consultants committed to this project and who will deliver seminars during the project range from decorated Pessoa specialists such as Richard Zenith, António Feijo, Steffen Dix and Eduardo Lourenço; and top Nietzsche experts such as John Richardson, Robert Pippin, Simon May, Graham Parkes, Glenn Most, Giuliano Campioni and Ken Gemes. Other members and consultants committed to the project include Bartholomew Ryan, João Constançio, Maria Filomena Molder, JD Mininger, Nuno Nabais, Fernando Ribeiro, Maria José Branco, Pietro Gori, Paolo Stellino, Benedetta Zavatta, Katia Rodgers, Mariana Gray de Castro, George Pattison, and Luís Sousa. The goal of the project alongside the monthly seminar is to hold an international conference in 2015 and edit a volume on Nietzsche and Pessoa both in English and in Portuguese on the plurality of the subject, as well as generate further links and research in the project’s theme along the borders of philosophy and literature in modernity including also the analysis of writers such as Kierkegaard, Pirandello, Leopardi, Yeats and Joyce.
Besides the members of NIL, the project engages the following consultants and team-members: Ken Gemes, Simon May, John Richardson, Robert B. Pippin, Glenn Most, Daniel Conway, Christa Acampora, George Pattison, Graham Parkes, Richard Zenith, Onésimo Almeida, J.D. Mininger, Giuliano Campioni, Oswaldo Giacóia, Eduardo Lourenço, Jerónimo Pizarro, Steffan Dix, Peter Caravetta.
This research project was funded by the Portuguese Ministry of Education and Science’s Foundation for research (FCT). It was successfully concluded in April 2015.
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