Even those writers who have good things to say about Nietzsche usually do not have good things to say abut his penultimate book, The Antichrist. Like Ecce Homo it is often described as at least prefiguring Nietzsche's madness if not (as is sometimes the case) said to be part of that desperate glide itself. Those inclined to reject the book may be encouraged in this view by Nietzsche's statement to Brandes, in November 1888, that The Antichrist is the whole of The Transvaluation of All Values (originally announced as a series of four books) and that Ecce Homo is its necessary prelude. The reader will have already discerned my intention of retrieving this exorbitant text for the Nietzschean canon. Such operations of retrieval are standard enough moves within a certain kind of philological discourse which privileges the book as an expressive or cognitive totality. But Nietzsche, the arch philologist, is today often regarded as not only undercutting the grounds of such moves by challenging their hermeneutic presuppositions but as having exemplified in a paradigmatic fashion the discontinuous, fragmentary or porous text. The second view of Nietzsche's writings is a very traditional one; it is a commonplace with Nietzsche's earlier readers to regard all of his writing as distressingly wanting in order and style, despite their admiration for his thought. Such has continued to be the assumption of Anglo-American readers like Walter Kaufmann and Arthur Danto, who have aimed at articulating the internal order of Nietzsche's thought which the stylistic fireworks of the texts obscure. Recent French readers, most notably Jacques Derrida, have tried to show that fragmentation and undecidability are not merely secondary features of Nietzsche's writing but constitute its very element. Derrida outrageously suggests that the jotting "I forgot my umbrella" is typical of all Nietzsche's writing in its ambiguity and undecidability of meaning and in its systematic evasion of all contextual explication. One might wonder whether such a strategy of reading is indebted to Nietzsche's own hermeneutic strategy in The Antichrist. There Nietzsche anticipates Heidegger and Derrida by relying on the figure of erasure to designate his own relation to Christianity, its textual traditions, and its central figure, Jesus. Following the nineteenth century philological and historical methods to their extreme and thereby overturning and transvaluing (umkehren and umwerten) both the methods and Christianity, Nietzsche tries to restore the blank page which is Jesus' life to its pristine purity of white paper, tabula rasa. In this respect Nietzsche's project is very much like Robert Rauschenberg's erased De Kooning and like Derrida's attempt to shatter any determinate meaning in Nietzsche himself by revealing the irreducible plurality of woman in the apparent masculine ambitions of order and control in Nietzsche's style. All of these efforts nevertheless remain marked with the signatures of their authors; the negation of a negation cannot be negation itself. At the end there is Rauschenberg's art, Derrida's project of deconstruction, Nietzsche's graffito scrawled on the Christian text. This, however, is to anticipate the results of my project of retrieval.

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Publication Date

Spring 1981

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Copyright © 1981 Duke University Press. This article first appeared in Boundary 2 9, no. 3 (Spring 1981): 119-40. doi:10.2307/303116.

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