Nietzsche and women – figures, images and female types



Introduction by the author of the newly released book

For a long time, Nietzsche's considerations on women were taken with caution, either because of the misogyny that was believed to be present in his texts, or because of the anti-feminism that was thought to be manifested in them. There was no attempt to examine the theoretical issues that emerge from his writings, nor to reflect on the place they occupy in his work as a whole. He was far more prudent, it seems, to ignore his views on women.

Among the rare scholars who took the philosopher's comments into account in this regard, there were those who, considering him a misogynistic author, tried to explain his apparently hostile observations in different ways. There were also those who sought to defend the idea that they did not measure up to his talents or were simply not of philosophical interest.[I]

In recent times, feminist writings have proposed to discuss the positions assumed by Nietzsche regarding women; they are situated mainly in the context of studies published in English. Investigating the possible contributions of Nietzschean thought to feminist theory and discussing how to interpret the philosopher's observations about the feminine, these have been the paths adopted.

As for the first one, there are numerous works that seek to assess the advantages and disadvantages of using Nietzsche's texts for the issues posed by feminism.2 There are those who advocate the idea that your writing is feminine[ii] and who defends the position that he is anti-feminist.[iii] There are also those who maintain that his thought allows for a re-reading of the philosophical canon in vogue, a canon that has always kept women and the feminine from their horizon of reflection,[iv] and anyone who claims that the radical critique he makes of rationalism, scientism, positivism, in short, of Western culture, should be extended to patriarchal society.[v] But this new way of looking at patriarchal discourses and practices in our society ended up leading to questioning feminist discourses and practices.[vi]

In the name of feminism or postmodernity, Nietzschean thought is frequently evoked, particularly in the United States.[vii] Despite the seriousness and rigor of these writings, there are cases in which, instead of using the philosopher as a toolbox to diagnose the values ​​of our time, they end up converting him into an instrument to corroborate already established theoretical or ideological positions. . They operate, in general, arbitrary cuts in their texts; they turn to them to support certain conceptions of feminism or even democracy. Adopting an overly specific point of view, some writings focus on localized polemics. Overly marked by the time and space in which they appear, they sometimes respond to specific interests.

It is important to point out that several feminist works take as their starting point, both in England and in the United States, the deconstructive reading inaugurated by Derrida. In Spurs: Nietzsche's Styles,[viii] book published in 1978, the French thinker made a metaphorical use of “woman”, a use that inspired several works. Following the trail he opened, Sarah Kofman and Luce Irigaray contributed with their studies so that feminist readings would take the philosopher as a valuable interlocutor.[ix]

It is quite true that, in the 1890s, Nietzsche seemed to come to air the bourgeois century that was then coming to an end, a century marked by Victorian and Wilhelmian moralism. Translations of his texts were published in France,11 in Italy,[X] in England.[xi] It was the literary and artistic vanguards and the emancipation movements, generational or social and even national, that first complained about his ideas. Not only in Germany,[xii] but also in other European countries, he became the intellectual mentor of those who fought for bodily and sexual liberation, in particular for women. Appearing in cosmopolitan libertarian circles, he appeared as an iconoclastic thinker, the destroyer of idols and the demolisher of traditional, bourgeois and Christian morality.

But, right at the beginning of the XNUMXth century, it also happens that, sometimes moving in opposite directions, women writers alert to the dangerous character of the philosopher's writings. It is worth remembering, for example, that Jane Michaux declares, in a conference entitled “Nietzsche. His ideas about feminism. His morals”, that he is “an enemy” of women who want to emancipate themselves.[xiii] And, a few years later, Emilie Sirieyx de Villers deplored that the Nietzschean fashion of the early XNUMXth century led women to forget their duties to the family in favor of a “superhuman selfishness”.[xiv]

It is also worth remembering that, in 1905, regarding the observations found in the chapter “The woman and the child”, of the first volume of Human, all too human, Rémy de Gourmont writes: "Nietzsche's aphorisms about women form the least interesting part of his work."[xv] And soon after he states: “Nietzsche knows women so badly that he, the great creator of ideas, of new relationships, finds himself reduced to writing, in a Nietzschean way, commonplaces”.[xvi]

If the first studies on “Nietzsche and women” appeared in the 1930s,[xvii] 50 years later, there were once again many works written by women, with multiple perspectives and approaches, on Nietzsche's reflections on women. It is enough to remember that, practically at the same time, Luce Irigaray, writer, psychoanalyst and feminist, on the one hand, and Noëlle Hausmann, religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary, on the other, dealt with the subject.

Luce Irigaray launches in 1981 the book entitled Marina Lover by Friedrich Nietzsche.[xviii] Adopting a personal way of confronting the philosopher, she composes a kind of new lament for Ariadne, made up of three parts and 29 sections, whose titles clearly underline the distance she takes in relation to academic ways of proceeding. Pursuing the purpose of engaging in an agonistic relationship with men, she interrogates Nietzsche about his own work, explains to him what the eternal return means, and alerts him to his problems with women.

Noëlle Hausmann, in turn, published in 1984 the study entitled Frédéric Nietzsche, Thérèse of Lisieux: two poetics of modernity.[xx] Understanding that, in the second half of the XNUMXth century, Thérèse de Lisieux and Friedrich Nietzsche experimented with night and nothingness, it wants to show that they drew opposite consequences from it. Although the image of the child was decisive for both, the philosopher and the saint saw it differently. One considered that the child was at the same time the creator and the result of his own becoming; the other understood that, falling asleep full of confidence in the Father's arms, she translated the original experience of God. Although accepting suffering as such, Nietzsche would not be ready to suffer for someone else; Thérèse, on the contrary, would live her existence as a permanent gift and sacrifice to the merciful love of God.

To this day, the philosopher's reflections on women raise different and sometimes opposing positions.[xx] This is what Angelika Schrober clearly demonstrates in her work on the reception of Nietzschean thought in France.[xxx] By examining several women's writings about Nietzsche, she wonders if the woman, that "delicate domestic animal" with her "tiger's claw under the glove", that rare "bird" that should remain caged, would have something to say to Nietzsche. respect for him. It is precisely one of the problems addressed by Renate Reschke. Bringing together texts by women, but also by men, she raises the double question of knowing whether women constitute a Nietzschean theme and whether Nietzsche constitutes a feminine theme.[xxiii]

There are not few works on Nietzsche's considerations about women. However, in my opinion, there is a lack of those that deal with the philosophical framework on which they are based. It is quite true that the task of the commentator who is willing to examine them is not an easy one.[xxiii] They constitute a plethora that goes from clichés to complex and refined analyzes of the human condition, from sparse digressions to reflections that come from sawn argumentation. With the exception of the first writings, they are present practically in all the corpus nietzschean. They appear, for example, in a chapter of Human, all too human, in a sequence of paragraphs from the Second Book of the gaia science, in several speeches by Thus Spoke Zarathustra, in a group of aphorisms by Beyond Good and Evil, in a number of passages of the Twilight of the Idols.

Examine the images of women that the philosopher builds and the roles he assigns to them, ask how he resorts to typology in his analyzes of female figures, inquire about the female personifications of abstract entities that he creates, ask about the positions he takes on women who want to emancipate themselves, investigating the reasons that lead them to fight intellectuals head on are the problems that preside over my investigation.

It must be made clear, from the outset, that it is not my intention to examine Nietzsche's behavior in relation to the women with whom he had relationships. Nor is it to compare his reflections on female emancipation and the way he dealt with the emancipated women he encountered throughout his life. The ambivalences that interest me are essentially those found in his own writings.

In this book, I defend the thesis that his considerations about women do not have a marginal place in his work; they are not reduced to personal preferences and, even less, to occasional deviations. Quite the contrary, they subscribe to his philosophical enterprise. It is for this reason that I endeavor to relate them to central themes of his thought, such as perspectivism and experimentalism, the critique of metaphysics and the fight against dogmatism, psychology and typology, free spirits and philosophers of the future. , the will to truth and the idea of ​​interpretation, the concept of will to power and the notion of force, the eternal return of the same and the love fati, “modern ideas” and the decadence.

From an immanent reading of the philosopher's texts, both published books and posthumous notes, according to chronological order, I pursue the purpose of highlighting the strategies he resorts to, to dismantle his traps. I intend to examine the multiple and varied ambivalences present in his considerations: they concern the behavior of married women in the face of free spirits, the attitudes of women who love towards their lovers, the traits of Zarathustra's beloved women compared to those of women simply human.

And I intend to show that, when it comes to women who want to emancipate themselves, Nietzsche is by no means ambivalent. Even more scathing will be his criticism of women who intend to express themselves publicly about politics or philosophy. As for this point, his positions bear the mark of exclusion that characterizes modernity.

*Scarlett Marton is a retired full professor at the Department of Philosophy at USP and the author, among other books, of Nietzsche, from cosmic forces to human values (UFMG Publisher).



Scarlett Marton. Nietzsche and women: figures, images and female types. Belo Horizonte, Autêntica, 2022, 220 pages.



[I] This is, for example, the position of Walter Kaufmann, who states: “Nietzsche's writings contain many all-too-human judgments – especially about women – but they are philosophically irrelevant; […] Nietzsche’s prejudices towards women do not have to concern the philosopher” (KAUFMANN, Walter. Nietzsche, Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist. 10th ed.

New York: The World, 1965. p. 84).

[ii] See KRELL, David Farrell. Postponements: Women, Sensuality and Death in Nietzsche. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986. p. 10, where it reads: “[Nietzsche] writes with a woman's hand”.

[iii] See SCHUTTE, Ofelia. Nietzsche on Gender Difference: A Critique. Newsletter on Feminism and Philosophy, v. 89, no. 2, 1990, p. 64, where it reads: “[Nietzsche] holds what can be fundamentally characterized as an anti-feminist position both on gender difference and on social and political equality”. Cf. also Beyond Nihilism: Nietzsche without Masks. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1984.

[iv] See OLIVER. Womanizing Nietzsche.

[v] This is what Debra Bergoffen defends, for example, in her article “On the Advantage and Disadvantage of Nietzsche for Women” (In: DALLERY, Arleen B.; SCOTT, Charles E. (ed.). The Question of the Other: Essays in Contemporary Continental Philosophy. New York: State University of New York, 1989. p. 77).

[vi] See, by the way, TAPPER, Marion. Ressentiment and Power: Some Reflections on Feminist Practices. In: PATTON, Paul (ed.). Nietzsche, Feminism and Political Theory. London: Routledge, 1993. p. 130-143.

[vii] Among several publications that move in this direction, cf. LORRAINE, Tamsin. Gender, Identity, and the Production of Meaning. Boulder: Westview Press, 1990; OWENS, Craig. The Discourse of Others: Feminists and Postmodernism. In: FOSTER, Hal. Postmodern Culture. London: Pluto Press, 1985. p. 57-82.

[viii] DERRIDA, Jacques. Éperons: les styles de Nietzsche. Paris: Flammarion, 1978 [in Portuguese: Spurs: Nietzsche's styles. Trans. Rafael Haddock-Lobo and Carla Rodrigues. Rio de Janeiro: Nau, 2013].

[ix] Adopting different perspectives, several authors also walked in this direction; thought that Nietzsche's ideas could offer interesting starting points for feminist theory. See, for example, CLARK, Maudemarie. Nietzsche's Misogyny. In: Nietzsche on Ethics and Politics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015. p. 141-150. Wondering why a feminist form of Nietzsche's philosophy did not develop in the Anglo-American academic world, Maudemarie Clark advances two hypotheses.

[X] Apparently, the first book to be translated in Italy was Al di là del bene e del male: prelude to a philosophy dell'avvenire (Trans. Edmondo Weisel. Turin: Fratelli Bocca, 1898). The second edition appeared in 1902, and the third in 1907. It was followed by Così parlò Zarathustra: a book for everyone and for everyone (Trans. Edmondo Weizel. Turin: Fratelli Bocca, 1899). The second edition was published in 1906; the third, in 1910; the fourth, in 1915; the fifth, in 1921. From the turn of the century, several others appeared: Gaia science (Trans. Antonio Cippico. Turin: Fratelli Bocca, 1901); the second edition appeared in 1905; the third, in 1921; Ecce homo: come if you have fun if you are (Trans. Adolfo Oberdofer. Torino: Fratelli Bocca, 1910).

[xi] In England, there were The Works of Friedrich Nietzsche in Eleven Volumes, edited by Alexander Tille (London: Henry & Co., 1896-1909. 11 v.).

[xii] For a discussion of the positive reception of Nietzsche's ideas by early German feminism, cf. THOMAS, R. Hinton. Nietzsche in German politics and society, 1890-1918. Manchester: University Press, 1983. p. 80-95.

[xiii] MICHAUX, Jane. Nietzsche. His ideas sur le feminisme. Sa morale. Paris: Henri Charles Lavauzelle éditeur militaire, 1909. Lecture given on February 18, 1909 at the Salon International de la Femme Française.

[xiv] VILLIERS, Emilie Sirieyx de. La Faillite du surhomme et la psychology de Nietzsche. Paris: Nilsson, 1920. p. 102.

[xv] GOURMONT, Remy. Literary promenades. Paris: Mercure de France, 1922.

  1. 89. The quoted passage is taken from a text entitled “Nietzsche et l'amour”, which dates from 1905 and is included in this collection.

[xvi] GOURMONT. Promenade littéraires, P. 93.

[xvii] A particular case is the book published by Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche, Friedrich Nietzsche und die Frauen seiner Zeit (München: CH Beck, 1935).

[xviii] IRIGARAY, Luce. Friedrich Nietzsche's Marine Lover. Paris: Minuit, 1980.

[xx] HAUSMANN, Noelle. Frédéric Nietzsche, Thérèse de Lisieux: deux poétiques de la modernité. Paris: Beauchesne, 1984.

[xx] See, for example, DIETHE, Carol. Nietzsche's Women: Beyond the Whip. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1996 (Monographien und Texte zur Nietzsche-Forschung, 31); LAWS, Mario. Frauen a Nietzsche. Hamburg: Rowohlt Taschenbuch Verlag, 2000.

[xxx] SCHOBER, Angelika. La Réception de Nietzsche en France: écrits de femmes. In: LE RIDER, Jacques (ed.). Nietzsche: cent ans de reception in France. Paris:

Editions Suger, 1999. p. 147-162.

[xxiii] RESCHKE, Renate (Hrsg.). Frauen: eh Nietzschethema? Nietzsche: ein Frauenthema?. Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 2012. (Nietzscheforschung, B. 19.)

[xxiii] If “Nietzsche and women” is a topic that today attracts the attention of scholars, “Nietzsche and men” could very well constitute another.

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