Flow of Ideas

What Can Nietzsche Teach Ya?


This blog was first written for Wavering on Ether, the blog I have on MySpace [1]. I thought it worthwhile to reproduce it here. It is part confessional, and was originally drafted in response to a very interesting thread on the Socialism Group, started by Stancel.

Glenn Rikowski - the Volumizer, Northampton, 16th October 2006

I have my own story to tell regarding the philosopher with a hammer. In the early 1990s, I was perturbed, nay pissed off, with folks from the educational Left drifting away from Marx and Marxism and towards postmodernism. So I decided to try to make sense of this, and started reading the postmodernist writers. However, I soon sussed out that what I really needed to do was to read the postmodern Godfathers Foucault, Derrida, Lyotard, Deleuze and so on. But this reading programme didn't last long either, as I realised that these guys were all indebted, in one way or another, to Nietzsche.

I put aside any misgivings about reading Nietzsche and there were many and began, with The Anti-Christ, then Beyond Good and Evil and just kept going. Over 1992 to 1996 I read most of Nietzsche's published stuff. I also read lots of commentaries on, and analyses of Nietzsche the secondary literature, plus articles on Nietzsche and education (mostly from a journal called Educational Theory). Yet I still had reservations about all this reading of Nietzsche. I told a few Marxist friends what I had been up to: they disapproved, for a whole bunch of reasons. But I persevered. I read books and articles (there weren't that many) that tried to synthesise, or at least find parallels between Marx and Nietzsche.

This doggedness on my part flowed from a number of factors. First, I just enjoyed reading Nietzsche, and I liked particularly his iconoclasm and his critiques of a vast range of other philosophers. He is a tremendous writer. Secondly, having read a couple of biographies on him I was fascinated by many aspects of his life. But thirdly, and this was most important, reading Nietzsche was helping me to write. On writing style, he was a great teacher for me.

In 1996 my discovery of Geoff Waite's book on Nietzsche was a severe jolt for me [2]. Waite's critique of Nietzsche was relentless and mostly convincing, though I don't agree with him that we should just not mess with Nietzsche at all. Waite seemed too fearful of Nietzsche for my liking; perhaps as I had been before I had started to read Nietzsche. He gave Nietzsche too much respect. But Waite made me reconsider what I was doing. I decided to bring all this reading together in the field of education [3] and [4]. I too tried to bring Marx into contact with Nietzsche, with some success [5].

Looking back, I think I gained from what I did with Nietzsche. One important gain was that I found myself in a great position to critique educational postmodernism! Also, by the late 1990s, people like Nigel Blake were using Nietzsche and nihilism to critique education policy in England, and in quite interesting ways too. But I could show how these critiques were limited, and my reading of Nietzsche helped loads on that score.

On balance, I'm glad I spent so much time with the philosopher with a hammer, beyond good and evil. But I would say that if you do read Nietzsche as much as I did, you might need Waite as an antidote!

Notes and References

[1] See: http://blog.myspace.com/glennrikowski

[2] Geoff Waite (1996) Nietzsche's Corps/e: Aesthetics, politics, prophecy, Or, the spectacular technoculture of everyday life, Durham & London: Duke University Press.

[3] Glenn Rikowski (1998) Nietzsche's School? The Roots of Educational Postmodernism, a paper prepared for the Social Justice Seminar, Semester 2, University of Birmingham, School of Education, 24th March. Online at: http://www.flowideas.co.uk/?page=articles&sub=Nietzsche's%20School

[4] Peter McLaren and Glenn Rikowski (2001) Pedagogy for Revolution against Education for Capital: An E-Dialogue on Education in Capitalism Today, Cultural Logic, Vol.4 No.1, online at: http://clogic.eserver.org/4-1/mclaren%26rikowski.html

[5] Glenn Rikowski (1999) Nietzsche, Marx and Mastery: The Learning Unto Death, in: P. Ainley and H. Rainbird (Eds.) Apprenticeship: Towards a New Paradigm of Learning, London: Kogan Page.

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