Reversals of Native and Alien: Nietzsche’s Anthropological Theory of Metaphori

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Reversals of Native and Alien:

Nietzsche’s Anthropological Theory of Metaphori


This article takes seriously Nietzsche’s claim that there is no real division between proper and figurative speech. It traces Nietzsche’s arguments about the ideological reasons behind assertion of rhetorical and linguistic purity. But it also moves beyond an image of Nietzsche as unmasker and, with the help of Gregory Nagy’s anthropological principle of native-alien equilibration, draws out the philosophical implications of Nietzsche’s notion that native and alien cannot be fixed, but are in fact constantly changing places. Two poems – one by Rilke, one by Nietzsche himself – are read closely to bring out the main insight that native innovation is in fact brought about by the ‘home invasion’ of the alien.

In 1872-3 Nietzsche committed himself to an unusually antiquarian task - a formal lecture course on ancient rhetoric. The descriptive rather than theoretical nature of the course is explicitly stated in its title: ‘Darstellung der Antiken Rhetorik’ (‘Description of Ancient Rhetoric’)ii. Indeed, this early project of Nietzsche’s is one that more or less professes a philological obligation and faithfulness to the texts that constitute the corpus of his topic, rhetoric. I say ‘more or less’, because the antiquarian faithfulness characterizes only the greater part of the lectures’ content, which, however, the shorter first part will have already undermined theoretically. Of course, the tedious taxonomical litany of divisions, figures, and tropes appears ironical in the light of the beginning of the lecture course.

The first in this series of lectures deals with the concept of rhetoric (‘Begriff der Rhetorik’). In this lecture, Nietzsche completely undermines the theoretical foundations of rhetoric by saying that the dichotomy between figurative and proper language is false:
There is obviously no unrhetorical ‘naturalness’ in language to which one could appeal; Language itself is the result of purely rhetorical arts.iii
Though pronounced with a certain nonchalance, the theoretical consequences of this statement are as profound as those that followed from the revelation that the classical science’s dichotomy between the observed and the observer is not strictly valid.

According to Nietzsche, the concepts “proper” and “improper” as applied to language have only an ideological reality:

There is neither a pure nor an impure speech in itself. A very important question arises of how the feeling for purity gradually is formed, and how an educated society makes choices, to the point when the whole range has been defined.iv
Nietzsche reveals with his peculiar sensitivity that it is the spirit of discrimination, as well as elitism, that have defined the shape of classical rhetoric with its central concept of auctoritas. The very terms of the rhetorical vitia or violation appear to be ethnic or at least political, or maybe anthropological, categories: barbarism and solecism (referring to a colonized people) - reflecting an ambition to dominate the periphery from the center.v In other words, Nietzsche does nothing less than identify the drive behind the basic principles of classical rhetoric as a discriminating power that acts in defence of a purity of proper Greek and proper Latin, untouched by the language of the colonies -- a purity that has always been a fiction. The fiction of purity serves to explain and legitimize the origin of power, when, in fact, all power consolidated in the present was once violence. Linguistic purity is similarly a fiction that is perpetuated for both practical and ideological reasons: ‘And, it was through these barbarisms and solecisms that the good rule-bound French came about!’vi

Nietzsche thus explains rhetoric not only in political terms, but unmasks the political credo concerning the necessity to protect the proper core values against the alien through assimilation or exclusion: it is a lie, because there never is, there never was any purity. There simply is no ‘properness’ to protect.

The rhetorical idea that language can be divided according to proper and improper, or, normal and figurative use is based upon a misunderstanding of Aristotle. The following passage from the Rhetoric is traditionally interpreted as an announcement that there is a metaphorical use of language on the one hand and a strange use of language on the other:
All people carry on their conversations with metaphors and words in their native and prevailing meanings. Thus, it is clear that if one composes well, there will be an unfamiliar quality and it escapes notice and will be clear. This, we said, was the virtue of rhetorical language.vii
However, as Paul Ricoeur points out, “the opposition between figurative and proper meaning, omnipresent in the later [rhetorical] tradition, is not implied here [in Aristotle's rhetoric”].viii This article argues that we should grasp the notion of familiar and unfamiliar qualities in anthropological, rather than in linguistic terms.

The anthropological dichotomy of alien-native, of course, is most relevantly articulated in the linguistic phenomenon, when our subject is literature or rhetoric in general. Still, the feeling that something is alien or native precedes language, although it is also reinforced and made manifest by language. ‘Barbarism’ and ‘solecism’ are ethnological, or more broadly political, concepts that become linguistic only derivatively. It is all the more justified to interpret the rhetorical notion of familiarity and unfamiliarity ethnologically as the first lexical meanings of the original terms used in Aristotle’s Rhetoric suggest the same: idiotikoi are one’s countrymen as opposed to xenikoi, who are foreigners.

If there is no external standard of correctness or purity, as Nietzsche claims, then we are out on an incessantly moving sea with no certainty about what is alien (barbarism) and what is proper. What happens then to our accepted definition of metaphor being the transference of alien and proper meaning? How will we distinguish metaphor from non-figurative utterance? Although less urgent than the question of the migrant in global politics today, the question of metaphor re-examined in terms of native and alien might be able to clarify a thing or two in politics as well. To do so, I shall borrow Gregory Nagy’s anthropological model, “the alien is native principle,” that he worked out for the Ancient Hellenic world, but that might serve our world equally well.

Nagy’s principle of “alien is native” is best understood through the twofold function of the hero: the hero is an outsider attracting foreign qualities but only in order to bring the foreign values to the center of tradition and thereby reinforce its native qualities. The civilizational dynamism of the Hellenic world according to Nagy is, on the one hand, a movement from outside to inside which conveys the feeling of being ensured by familiarization; on the other hand, this movement is accompanied by an opposite movement from inside to outside which is expressed in the fear of the strange and in alienation. This twofold movement, he claims, never comes to an end. In fact, this instability between what is native and what is alien fuels Hellenic civilization. György Lukács’s thoughts (more than half a century later) on transcendental homelessness as the dynamism fuelling the European novel can be linked to both to Nagy and Nietzsche. Close readings of poems by Rilke and Nietzsche will get us closer to the paradox of ‘the native is alien and the alien is native’ equation. Nietzsche was not mincing his words and today his On Truth and Lie from an Extra-moral Sense would assume the extra-core-values point of view of the migrant. With this in mind is how the following pages on the poetic exchange between native and alien could be read most fruitfully: from the outer, extra-moral, but not immoral, point of view.

Nietzsche on Metaphor
Nietzsche’s idea that there is no limit to rhetoric proved to be a powerful genie once set free from its bottle. It conjured up in turn the spirit of deconstructionism, cultural studies, and the intellectual tendency to see everything as being a social (or, for that matter, rhetorical) construct. The curious fact, however, is that although Nietzsche’s thought exerts an enormous influence in general upon the critical discourse on metaphor and poetic language, it remains completely uninfluenced by Nietzsche’s main thesis, which claims that metaphor is not a poetic phenomenon. Whenever poetic language is discussed, the dichotomy between grammar and rhetoric gets reinstated as if the Nietzschean revolution had never taken place.ix It seems that Nietzsche’s view according to which metaphor is not a poetic phenomenon is so counter-intuitive that it has been fated to be overlooked. However surprising this opinion might be, it is a productive theoretical insight, which, I believe, should be brought to the center of the discourse on poetry.

It is not surprising that scholarly discourse on poetic language finds it difficult to dispense with the dichotomy of figurative and proper meaning, since without a rhetorically neutral ground of observation it is impossible to establish the distinctive features of figurative language. Tropes are traditionally defined as figures of the lexical level produced by a transference of a meaning from its proper place to a place where it does not belong. The traditional definition, however, does not make sense any more once we accept that there are no fixed places in the semantic field, that there is no semantic properness. Transference, as a movement of meaning, is the most common fact of language activity.

According to Nietzsche, tropes are not a distinctive class of words. All words are tropes.
In summa: die Tropen treten nicht dann und wann an die Wörter heran, sondern sind deren eigenste Natur. Von einer “eigentlichen Bedeutung“, die nur in speziellen Fallen übertragen würde, kann gar nicht die Rede sein.
In sum: the tropes are not just occasionally added to words but constitute their most proper, essential nature. It makes no sense to speak of a ‘proper meaning’ which is carried over to something else only in special cases.x

Similarly, figuration at the grammatical level is itself a constituting condition of language: “Eigentlich ist alles Figuration, was man gewöhnlich Rede nennt” (“In fact, what is usually called language is actually nothing but figuration.”)xi

The revolutionary ideas, which we encounter in Nietzsche’s lectures on rhetoric also appear in his other works. While it is only a few pages long, one of Nietzsche’s most influential writings is the pamphlet Über Wahrheit und Lüge im auβermoralischen Sinne.xii This text elaborates upon the idea of unlimited figuration from an epistemological point of view. Nietzsche’s thesis here is that all concepts are in fact metaphors.
Every word becomes a concept as soon as it is supposed to serve not merely as a reminder of the unique, absolutely individualized original experience, to which it owes its origin, but at the same time to fit countless more or less similar cases, which strictly speaking, are never identical, and hence absolutely dissimilar. Every concept originates by equation of the dissimilar. Just as no leaf is ever exactly the same as any other, certainly the concept “leaf” is formed by arbitrarily dropping those individual differences, by forgetting the individual factors, and this rise to the idea that besides leaves there is in nature such thing as the “leaf.”xiii
According to this passage, the origin of a word is unique and therefore unrepeatable in its uniqueness. The uniqueness of the originating experience, however, is traded for iterability, when it enters language. Iterability is made possible by the act of seeing similarities, which is conditioned by forgetting. The genus, therefore, that is responsible for resemblance and kinship, is not an external observable phenomenon, but an act of cognitive regulation in Nietzsche’s opinion. Human cognition forges a false origin, the genus, that poses as the cause of the different species: “das Blatt ist die Ursache der Blätter.” (“the leaf is the cause of the leaves”) xiv. The development of genus does not halt at the level of concept but continues to mushroom in the pattern of analogy by further recognitions of sameness in things, which are in fact different. This process of conceptual construction progresses by recognizing causal and analogical relations.
In this respect man can probably be admired as a mighty architectural genius who succeeds in building an infinitely complicated conceptual cathedral on foundations that move like flowing water.xv
The structural principle that turns the unique into repeatable patterns of similarity has two aspects: causality as its diachronic face, and analogy as its synchronic face.

Conceptualization, analogy, and causality are metaphorical in nature, since they all aim at establishing identity, quasi-identity, kinship, and similarity in an environment of so-called objective reality -- which is in fact indifferent to identity. Metaphorizing is the ability of seeing identity in what in fact is different. There needs to be an act of forgetting, a suppressing of parts of reality in order to give form to it. In that sense, metaphor is an act of assimilation. Seeing the genus in the different species; seeing the identity of analogical relations; seeing the identity of the word and its occasion in the pattern of cause and effect are all metaphorical equilibrations that give shape to the observable world in form of equations. Metaphor is the root of the formal understanding of the world. Metaphor, according to Nietzsche, is definition, demarcation, classification and as such the prerequisite of repetition (mimetic or mechanical record): learning, scientific knowledge, culture, social and technical progress.

The development of a pyramidal order according to castes and classes, a new world of laws, privileges, subordinations, boundary determinations, which now stands opposite the other, intuitive world of primary impressions, as the more solid, more universal, more familiar, more human, and therefore as the regulatory and imperative world.xvi

Although Nietzsche stretches the concept of metaphor to an incredible extent, it still stays within the boundaries of the most traditional definition: to metaphorize is the ability to see sameness in difference, or, with a little adjustment, the ability to see sameness and difference together. Whenever we encounter the observable, the world of qualities, we double it and reunite it at one and the same time by the act of ‘seeing-as.’xvii

The cognitive structure in which there is a simultaneous awareness of sameness and difference is repetition. Repetition is the condition of articulation, the process that gives form to the indefinite by transforming it from its unique existence into a recursive existence. Metaphor, in Nietzsche’s interpretation, is the formal principle of human cognition, which gives form to our primal unique impressions, thereby making them repeatable, describable, and externalized.

According to Nietzsche’s corresponding psychological theory, humans use the deception of metaphor as their special evolutionary survival technique.

For something is possible in the realm of these schemata which could never be achieved with the vivid first impressions: the construction of a pyramidal order according to castes and degrees, the creation of a new world of laws, privileges, subordinations, and clearly marked boundaries—a new world, one which now confronts that other vivid world of first impressions as more solid, more universal, better known, and more human than the immediately perceived world, and thus as the regulative and imperative world.
Externalization and repetition give humans the comforting feeling of being in control and safe from the unexpected, the irregular, and the indefinite. As we have seen, metaphorization is presented by Nietzsche as a process of building, as a creation of edifices, which shelter humans from uncontrollable accidents. The metaphorical drive is behind foundations of nations and homes. Metaphors provide a protection against the indefinite. As can be guessed from the architectonic images for metaphorization, Nietzsche takes metaphor to be fundamentally non-organic -- and as such alien from life. For Nietzsche, metaphorization is the suppression of life in the spirit of science. The incessant building of the metaphor-pyramid is associated with the forceful march of scientific progress in Nietzsche’s mind. Yet Nietzsche uses the word ‘science’ to mean broadly human cognitive regulation. Humans spin their own cognitive regulation out of thin air based upon the dichotomy of native and alien. This cognitive regulation, however, barely corresponds to the spontaneous regulation that is more like a flexible play of family resemblance, in which kinship is not corresponding to an abstract idea of ‘the kin’.

The Prison and the Stranger

Now, Nietzsche does not say that there is no difference between poetic and everyday or rigorous language, only that their distinction cannot be captured at the descriptive level. The original metaphor makers or those who are brave enough to let go of the pyramidal structures and create metaphors that escape being calcified as concept-metaphors. Nietzsche thus distinguishes the original metaphor –making that we build intuitively -- from their residue calcified into a kind of prison:

The drive toward the formation of metaphors is the fundamental human drive, which one cannot for a single instant dispense with in thought, for one would thereby dispense with man himself. This drive is not truly vanquished and scarcely subdued by the fact that a regular and rigid new world is constructed as its prison from its own ephemeral products, the concepts. It seeks a new realm and another channel for its activity, and it finds this in myth and in art generally.
Poetry is characterized by Nietzsche as a state in which there is no protection against the indefinite, or indeterminacy: a state of “transcendental homelessness.xviii In fact the poet is the culture-hero who brings down the old prison language of dead metaphors. The creative ‘metaphor is individual and without equals and is therefore able to elude all classification, the great edifice of concepts displays the rigid regularity of a Roman columbarium and exhales in logic that strength and coolness which is characteristic of mathematic concepts is torn by art.’ The following sonnet by Rilke presents us with a picture of a house – think of it as a calcified architecture of metaphors – invaded by indeterminacy. The poet, however, is a culture-hero who himself attracts the strangeness. He is native to the house, and yet also a stranger:
Vor dem Sommerregen
Auf einmal ist aus allem Grün im Park

man weiß nicht was, ein Etwas, Fortgenommen;

man fühlt ihn näher an die Fenster kommen

und schweigsam sein. Inständig nur und stark

ertönt aus dem Gehölz der Regenpfeifer,

man denkt an einen Hieronymus:

so sehr steigt irgend Einsamkeit und Eifer

aus dieser einen Stimme, die der Guß

erhören wird. Des Saales Wände sind

mit ihren Bildern von uns fortgetreten,

als dürften sie nicht hören was wir sagen.
Es spiegeln die verblichenen Tapeten

das ungewisse Licht von Nachmittagen,

in denen man sich fürchtete als Kind.xix
It is very difficult to meet the challenges of Rilke’s linguistic artistry. The most obvious problems facing the translator are the multiple meanings of the words ‘erhören,’ ‘der Gus,’ ‘das Bild,’ and ‘ungewisse,’ and the reflective grammatical structure of ‘man sich fürchtete als Kind’ (‘one terrified himself as [or like] a child’). I have chosen to display Stephen Cohn’s translation of this poem because although it necessarily alters the original it does it in favour of its own struggle for poetic creation.
Before Summer Rain
All of a sudden, outside in the park,

something we cannot identify

has gone from all the green. Quietly

it presses closer to the windows; looks

inside. Then from the copse, urgent and clear

a plover calls. You think of Saint Jerome,

such weight of solitude and zeal is there

within this voice which cries out for the storm

to hear! As if they thought it quite forbidden

for them to overhear what might be said

the pictures and the walls themselves recede,
the faded tapestry palely returns

the fickle light of all those afternoons

when we as children learned to be afraid.xx
Here is my own working prose translation of “Before the summer Rain”:
Suddenly, no one knows what - a Something is withdrawn from all the green in the park; one feels it coming closer to the window and being silent. (How) urgent, however, and powerful sounds the plover from the wood, one thinks of a kind of Hieronymus: so much of some loneliness and some passion rises from this single sound, the downpour (cast] will listen to it. The walls of the room with its pictures [or images] leap away from us as if they must not hear what we are saying. The uncertain [or unknown] light, of afternoons in which one has terrified as a child, reflects on the faded wallpaper.
Each compounded sentence in the poem depicts a different and independent event. The sentences are arranged in an enthymemic, rather than a syllogistic, order; their relation to each other is not explicit. A normal strategy of close reading would consider the implicative structures incomplete and complete them via building analogical and causal chains. The creation of causal and analogical relations is what Nietzsche calls metaphorization. As we have seen, metaphorization is not a poetic phenomenon, at least according to Nietzsche. He claims that the poet is strong enough to face contingency itself without transforming it into metaphorical structures:

That enormous structure of beams and boards of concepts, to which the poor man clings for dear life, is for the liberated intellect just a scaffolding and plaything for his boldest artifices. And when he smashes it apart, scattering it, and then ironically puts it together again, joining the most remote and separating what is closest, he reveals that he does not need the emergency aid of poverty, and that he is now guided not by concepts but by intuitions. xxi

Explicating a text by reconstructing causal chains and analogies is an act of scholarly criticism that is ultimately interested in definitions, while poetry is interested in the

opposite, in the indefinite. I suggest that it is not only causality and analogy that can be implied in a text but coincidence as well. While standard close reading has a tendency to suppress contingency in language, here I conduct a different kind of reading, one that concentrates on coincidence rather than causality and analogy.

In the absence of an explicit logical conjunction we need to find out what kind of relation is implied between the event of the birds’ whistle and the event of the downpour. The poem gives a clue according to which one might think of (a kind of) Hieronymus when hearing the Regenpfeifer. Both of these names are compounded nouns that compress the story of their origin in one word. The Regenpfeifer’s name can be explained by the hypothesis that its whistle causes rain. Hieronymus means ‘the one with the sacred name’. A name in itself could be sacred, when it has the power to realize itself, as does the name of the Regenpfeifer. Such a name can hypothetically prove its powerful actuality through the coinciding events of the whistle and the rain. Thus, the name does what it means. Is the logical relation between the two propositions that of cause and effect? Does the event of the downpour occur because of the event of the bird’s whistle?

Well, does the whistle really cause the downpour? As a matter of fact, it does not. Moreover, the poem indicates that we should not understand the relation between the whistle and downpour as one of causality. In German “erhören” means both “to listen to” and “to grant a request.” The urgency of the bird’s song is a request that is granted by the rain. The urgency of the bird presents itself as the act of sounding, while the pouring down of the rain is the act of listening. The act of sounding, however, does not precede the act of listening in an order of cause and effect. The sound does not cause the listening. Sounding and listening are relative to each other; they are, in fact, two aspects of the same phenomenon. If the route from Vienna to Budapest is taken as the act of sounding, then the act of listening analogically must be the route from Budapest to Vienna. The actual route is the same in both cases.

Besides meaning ‘downpour’, ‘der Gus’ can also mean ‘cast’. This makes the urgency of the bird song attain the role of the mould which is to be cast. The rain is the form in which the bird’s urgency is cast, the form in which it attains a definiteness. Sounding and listening are two different names applied to the same actuality as seen from two different perspectives, just as form and content are two aspects of the same thing. The formal aspect makes it possible for the aspect of content, which is indefinite, private, and immediate, to appear definite and externalized, just as the urgency of the bird attains definiteness and externalization in the form of the summer rain.

The relativity of the whistle and the rain stems from their being coincidental, being two mutually independent events that are clustered together not by necessity, but by a unique interest. According to Aristotle’s definition from his Metaphysics ‘the coincidental is what happens only once, or very seldom’.xxii His example of a coincidence is rain in the dog days. The ‘dog days’ are the hottest and driest days of the summer; a time when one does not expect rain or cold weather. To select and pair from all possible events the one of rain and the one of canicular days is unique and relative to the interest of the one who clusters them together. The coexisting elements are in reality mutually independent and that is why their coexistence is unique, or at least rare. Uniqueness is relative to an interest, to an urgency, and it is responsible for the surprise element that is traditionally linked with the understanding of metaphors.

The meaning of ‘erhören’ as ‘listening to’ supposes a temporal coincidence with the sounding request of the bird song. Its meaning as ‘granting’, however, in the grammatical structure of ‘will grant’ creates a gap between the coinciding events. Thus the fulfilment of the bird’s urgency by the rain fall is suspended: ‘die der Gus; erhören wird’ (‘the downpour will grant it’). The title (Vor dem Sommerregen) refers to this suspended moment before the summer rain. This moment, of course, cannot be a section of actual time. Instead, it is very much like the time when a die is cast and imagined to be frozen in the air, a time of parallel potentials rather than that of actuality. We can understand this better if we think about ‘der Gus’ as meaning ‘form’.

A form is always actual; it actualizes and determines a potential if the potential is genuine. The actualization of a potential is instantaneous, yet the poem freezes this instance, this ‘before’. We are in the instance between content and form, potentiality and actuality, in the ‘before’, before it changes into a cause to determine a certain end. In fact, we are not in (absolute) time, since in absolute time there is no such presence with duration. The strict determined succession of instances that add up to temporality has stopped. Heisenberg describes our normal sense of time in the following way:

We call events ‘past’ if we can, at least in principle, find out about them through some observation. We call them ‘future’ if we can still, at least in principle, intervene in their course. It corresponds with our daily experience to believe that events capable of observation are separated from those still open to change only by an infinitely short instant which we call ‘present.’xxiii
He claims, however, that if we take the position of the observer’s interest instead of that of the supposed objective world, or, if we step out of the realm of the observable world, then the infinitely short time that otherwise should be considered nothing attains an actual definition:
In fact there lies between what we have just called ‘past’ and what we have just called ‘future’ a small but finite time interval. Its duration is determined by the position of the observer who is deciding on ‘past’ or ‘future’ and by the location of the events whose course in time is being investigated.xxiv
Lyric poems, including Rilke’s sonnet, create a sense of presence - the lyrical now - that has duration (at least in an intuitively grasped dimension). The suspension of time between concurrent events is just an illusion caused by a purely linguistic trick. This is achieved by grammar’s ability to express temporal difference even between perfectly simultaneous aspects, like sounding and listening, by presenting them in different grammatical tenses. Yet this illusion is a kind of reality as well. It is the reality of an urgent interest that a reader might re-enact by recognizing a cluster of events as a coincidence, rather than a metaphorizing causality.

Rilke’s sonnet creates a sense of time that is alternative to the linear temporality of causality that we normally experience. This time before the summer rain is the time when the house with its pictures [or images] does not provide protection against the uncanny experience of the unique, when - as Nietzsche says – ‘that web of concepts is torn apart by art’ (“wenn jenes Begriffsgespinnst einmal durch die Kunst zerrissen wird”).xxv The first sentence of the poem describes how indeterminacy gathers from all the greenness and assails the house. The indeterminacy of ‘Etwas’ (‘Something’) is absolute. It is traceless, that is, it cannot be heard, seen, or perceived in other ways; it does not have any form.

There is no explicit indication of how the traceless presence of indeterminacy relates to the event of the bird’s whistle and the promised rain. In both the grammatical and the topological sense, indeterminacy and the sound of the plover are presented in parallel structures: Indeterminacy comes ‘aus allem Grün’ (‘from out of all the green’); the whistle sounds ‘aus dem Gehölz’ (‘from out of the wood’). The grammatical parallels do not stop here, though; an indefinite (‘irgend’) solitude and passion rise ‘aus dieser einen stimme’ (‘from this one sound’). Thus, the coincidence of the independent events is suggested by the similarity of their structures; indeterminacy approaching the house comes originally from out of the green, the sound from out of the wood, and the intense urgency from the sound.

We discover the same topology in a different grammatical form in the penultimate line (‘das ungewisse Licht von Nachmittagen’); the uncertain light originally comes from childhood afternoons. It is very tempting to recognize these different events as parts of a metaphorical equation based on their structural similarity. The reading I suggest, however, is different.

The structural similarity in each case is based upon a relation between a traceless, uncertain being and a perceivable, definite being. The unperceivable ‘Etwas’ is originally implied in the greenness. The whistle first appears as indefinite in relation to its origin, that is, the wood in which it was implied; then in turn it is viewed as the explicit and definite seat of the indefinite being of solitude and passion. This chiasmic movement between implicit and explicit becomes the governing figure in the lines ‘Ungewisse Licht von Nachmittagen, / in dem man sich fürchtete als kind’.

At first the grammatical-topological structure of ‘von’ suggests that the uncertain light is originally implied in the definite and actual afternoons of the past. This light, however, is ‘ungewisse’, and thus not definite-possibly not even perceivable in the normal sense of the word - but caught between being explicit, or definite, and being implicit, or indefinite. The light - being uncertain and indefinite - is not simply the form, that is, the definite externalization of the childhood afternoons. Each is implied in the other; the afternoons as content present themselves in the form of light, and, simultaneously, the light presents itself as the content of the afternoons. There is no end to this movement in which the so-called content (the implication) turns into form (explication) and back again. A reading that metaphorically identifies the uncertain light with the childhood afternoons would bring this naturally unending movement to a forced rest.

The present light and the past afternoons are in the restless relation of relativity that characterizes coincidence. Their relation is neither causality, in which case the past would determine the present, nor metaphorical identity, in which case light would stand for afternoons. Instead, it is a relation of independent events clustered together relative to an interest. The relation between the present light and the past afternoons is not characterized by necessity; nor is it characterized by a formerly hidden metaphorical identity. Their relation is unique; that is, it is accidental.

This sonnet after all is about origins, though not in the sense of an origin which causally determines an end. Rather, the poem is about the origin, or genealogy, of a state of mind that itself is not a determined end, but rather another uncertain origin or potential. This state of mind is not aided by the control that metaphorization provides: the walls of the house are retreating from the silence, which creeps by the window; the wallpaper is fading from the fearful light of uncertain origin. The unarticulated being that comes from all the green demolishes culture with all its intellectual confidence. The metaphorical texture of language is fading out, unravelled, thus revealing the fundamental contingency of language, its vulnerability in the presence of silence. Poetic language, as Nietzsche argued, is not distinguishable at the descriptive level. The poetry is not in the linguistic utterance itself but in the innuendo of the utterance.

Innuendo, that is, mere attitude cannot stand without externalized, physical expression. We only know the destructive silence that approaches the house from its position relative to the park or the house. Its existence announces itself as an absence in the greenness, and as a negation of the house. The silence remains alien both in its being an absence and as being a negation of what is there. The main chiasmus of the Rilke sonnet is the interchanging movement of inside and outside. The absence that is creeping from outside toward the house is the state of mind of childhood afternoons. A state of mind is internal, it is the way we are, our relatedness to the external without itself being externalized. Thus, what first appears as an alien, external force becomes one’s own innermost state. The house, which first appears as the inside that is attacked from outside, becomes external, as its walls are gliding away when the internal being from childhood afternoon takes over.

Innuendo and expression, internal and external, thus play off of each other. Nietzsche thinks that language is based on this restless compatibility between the way our states of mind exist (the act of soul) and the totally alien medium of linguistic expression (sound):

But the question of how an act of the soul can be represented through a sound image must be asked. If completely accurate representation is to take place, should the material in which it is to be represented, above all, not to be the same as that in which the soul works? However, since it is something alien - the sound - how then can something come forth more accurately as image?xxvi
And the answer follows immediately:

It is not the things that pass over into consciousness, but the manner in which we stand toward them, the pithanon.xxvii

Pithanon in Greek means persuasiveness, plausibility, that is, the rhetorical power itself.xxviii Thus, in this passage Nietzsche, remarkably, attributes the rhetorical power to the modality, to the manner of our relatedness, and to the necessary purportedness toward things. Modality is always in a relation with the descriptive, as innuendo is with externalized expression. The restless incompatibility between modality and descriptivity forms the ‘difference where the meanings lie’.

The duality found in the modality and descriptivity of language makes Nietzsche split the linguistic phenomenon into two parts, namely the language of teaching and the language of rapture. The language of teaching is an unnatural phenomenon enforced by culture. The real nature of language, however, is different: ‘Language does not want to teach, but rather to transfer to others a subjective rapture/arousal (Erregung) and acceptance’.xxix

The language of teaching makes things repeatable, thus transforming diachronicity into synchronicity. The language of rapture, however, is experience as it induces an undetectable change in the human mind. The language of teaching is a tool of description, and as such it can only convey change as an instantaneous redescription of the analogical relations of similarity. Change loses its diachronical nature in the course of description, since it can only be referred to by pointing to an initial synchronic state and a final synchronic state, and by claiming that their being different from one another necessitates the existence of change. However, the definition of change as the redescription of one synchronic level to another synchronic level is simply a maneuver to sidestep the diachronic process. The instance of redescription, in this definition, is absolutely momentary, having no duration or other properties, because it is determined by the structure of causality in which past is what we can already observe, future is what we can still possibly prevent, and presence has no real actuality.

All definitions of metaphor are based on the concept of change (transference), yet they all take change to be a virtual state reduced to nothing, or close to nothing by the descriptive approach. Since the descriptive concept of metaphor is absolutely necessary in the explanation of how the rhetorical phenomenon comes into being, I use the term

‘metaphor’ in the descriptive sense, knowing, however, that metaphor in this sense is not an aesthetic, but a general epistemological phenomenon. To take the rhetorical phenomenon (change\arousal) in its own way of being, that is, in potentiality, one must constantly curb the descriptive approach which is only adequate for actualized forms, and be ready to accept language in its modality.

Descriptivity and modality are two aspects of the linguistic utterance that do not exist without each other. The descriptive aspect of language is what can be appropriated in the form of a linguistic trace. The modal aspect is not there in actuality, but serves as the potential out of which the linguistic actuality is born. Since these aspects are, in fact, inseparable in any given linguistic utterance, their duality cannot justify the common intuition that leads to the rhetorical division of proper and improper uses of language.

According to Nietzsche’s argument the concepts ‘proper’ and ‘improper’ as applied to language have only an ideological reality. We have seen that ‘proper’ and ‘improper’ in Aristotle’s Rhetoric and Poetics refers to native and alien. We have also see how connected home and homelessness are with the regulative metaphor-building versus it creative demolishing by the liberal man. Let us see now how Nietzsche himself expresses his transcendental homelessness in poetry.

Home Invasion
The poem by Nietzsche entitled ‘Vereinsamt’ is about banishment or losing one’s homeland (Heimat). It is quite difficult to give an account of the German word ‘Heimat’ in English, even if we have already given up the impossible ambition of describing its charged emotional connotation. Nietzsche’s poem is the best attempt to disclose the meaning of this word by revealing how self, home, one’s country, and the feeling of belonging to a community are united in it.
Die Krähen schrein

Und ziehen schwirren Flugs zur Stadt:

Bald wird es schnein.-

Wohl dem, der jetzt noch - Heimat hat!

Nun stehst du starr,

Schaust rückwärts, ach! wie lange schon!

Was bist du Narr

Vor Winters in die Welt entflohn?

Die Welt - ein Tor

Zu tausend Wüsten stumm und kalt!

Wer das verlor,

Was du verlorst, macht nirgends Halt.

Nun stehst du bleich,

Zur Winter-Wanderschaft verflucht,

Dem Rauche gleich,

Der stets nach kältern Himmeln sucht.

Flieg, Vogel, schnarr

Dein Lied im Wüstenvogel-Ton! -

Versteck, du Narr,

Dein blutend Herz in Eis und Hohn!

Die Krähen schrein

Und ziehen schwirren Flugs zur Stadt:

Bald wird es schnein,-

Weh dem, der keine Heimat hat!xxx

The title of the poem Vereinsamt is as difficult to translate as is the key word ‘Heimat.’ The best English rendering would be ‘forlorn’, especially as it is also originally a past participle that has become an adjective, signifying both a process due to its verbal heritage and the very manner of this process as an adverb. In fact, Vereinsamt sounds like a musical instruction such as andante, as if it would refer to the manner of the poetic performance, as in the state of being ‘forlorn’. Stanley Appelbaum, whose translation I quote, chooses to translate this word as ‘Solitary’.
The crows call

And move on to the city with whirring wings.

Soon it will snow.-

Happy the man who now still - has a home!

Now you have been standing there stiff,

Looking backward, alas, for how long now!

Why, fool that you are, did you

Escape into the world as winter was coming?

The world - a gateway

To a thousand wildernesses mute and cold!

The man who has lost

What you have lost, never halts anywhere.

Now you are standing there pale,

Condemned by a curse to journey in winter,

Like the smoke

That constantly seeks colder skies.

Fly, bird, screech

Your song in the tones of a wilderness bird! -

Fool that you are, hide

Your bleeding heart in ice and scorn!

The crows call

And move to the city with whirring wings;

Soon it will snow, -

Woe is the man who has no home!xxxi

If we think that the title could be musical instructions referring to the mode of the performance, we can find what that mode should be in the expression ‘schnarr Dein Lied im Wüstenvogel-Ton!, that is, ‘screech your song in wasteland- bird-tone’. The wasteland-bird-tone is the specific mode of being forlorn that the title refers to, that is, the tone of the poem itself.

Stanley Appelbaum’s decision to translate the word ‘Wüste’ as wilderness goes against the grain of the poem. ‘Wüste’ can also mean desert or wasteland, and thus the word - like its etymological family - possesses the connotation of ‘waste,’ ‘desert,’ ‘barrenness,’ ‘monotony,’ ‘chaos,’ ‘void,’ ‘a lack of qualities,’ ‘a lack of cultivation.’ Therefore, one can say that the tone of performance suggested by both title and poem is the tone of tonelessness. The unembellished tone required of the song by the imperative (‘schnarr Dein Lied im Wüstenvogel-Ton!) is in accordance with Nietzsche’s teaching of how poetic utterance is not different from ordinary speech. Nietzsche’s bird of poetry is not the nightingale but the crow. The natural tone of the bird’s screech is mean and banal. In the Aristotelian formulation, the perfection of diction can be achieved if it is at once clear and not mean or banal. Banal and clear is what is native (idiotikon or kurion) and not banal, not mean, is what is alien (xenikon or allotrios). The use of alien terms (xenikon) permits ‘escapes from the native’, that is, the banal (exallatousa to idiotikon).xxxii

Strangeness comes not from the song of the crow, which is banal in itself, but from the attitude of the bird. The bird attains strangeness by the innuendo of escape. The innuendo of escape is strange indeed: the bird is fleeing towards the city while turning backward towards what it is leaving behind. Turning to the opposite direction of its direction of fleeing indicates that the crow’s escape has a converse quality. The movement of escape is caught up in chiasmic reversal.

In short, then, the directions of ‘from’ and ‘to’ are inverted in the escape. The bird seems to escape from the threatening winter towards the city where people live, that is, from homelessness towards home. Yet it is the winter that is the bird’s own, while the world of people is alien: ‘Was bist; du Narr / Vor Winters in die Welt entflohn? / Die Welt - ein Tor / Zu tausend Wüsten stumm und kalt!’ (‘Why, fool that you are, did you / Escape from winter into the world? / The world - a door / To a thousand wastelands mute and cold!’). The reassurance that the destination of the escape is home (Heimat) is mere self-deception. It is not even a destination but a door to a winter which is even colder than the one from which the bird is fleeing. The destination proves to be threatening destruction, while the threat that induced the flight turns out to be a native quality of the bird’s fate (‘Condemned by a curse to journey in winter [...] hide\ Your bleeding heart in ice and scorn!’). Going back to Gregory Nagy’s theory, this seems like an expression of the intrinsic instability of seemingly clear equations (and ethnic, or political, relations): the alien is native; the native is alien.

The threat itself is not neutralized: the converse of ‘alien is native’ is that the reassurance to be found in things native can lead to a self-deception since the threats associated with things foreign [...] can in fact come from within.xxxiii
The fact that the destination of the fleeing is a door to the same threats (only more intensive) that are compelling the flight in the first place results in a paradox of movement and paralysis. There is no progress in the movement since the bird never gets closer to the destination of the flight. In this relative sense, there is no movement at all. This explains the contradictory descriptions of the poem:
Now you have been standing there stiff,

Looking backward, alas, for how long now!

Why, fool that you are, did you

Escape into the world as winter was coming?

The man who has lost

What you have lost, never halts anywhere.

The penultimate stanza makes the coincidence of movement and stiffness explicit, the crow is standing and forced to flee by a curse at the same time. Since fleeing is a curse, its movement is not active but rather the result of an inability to halt:
Now you are standing there pale,

Condemned by a curse to journey in winter,

Like the smoke

That constantly seeks colder Heavens.

It is the very nature of the smoke which compels it to go upward, because of its own heat it has to progress towards cold, that is, towards the destruction of its own existence. This physical law of self-destruction corresponds to the self-deception of self-identity of being native to a home (which explains the importance of the Oedipus myth). Seeking heavens that prove to be ever colder just is human history, according to Nietzsche. The historical movement is based upon the self-deception that there is progress, while in fact there is only the movement of the smoke, which is standing in the same place while consummating itself in a self-destructive urge toward its own annihilation. Historical, personal, and poetic fate all coincide in the cursed flight of the poem. Walter Benjamin describes the flight depicted in Paul Klee’s Angelus Novus in the same paradoxical terms:
A Klee painting named ‘Angelus Nevus’ shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. This storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.xxxiv

The spirit of innovation, the Angelus Novus, is manifest in the twofold movement of xenosis. One aspect of xenosis is innovation, that is bringing something from outside to inside, making something that was unknown and alien into the center of a community, thus making it familiar and native. Benjamin’s analysis shows that the spirit of the new can never halt since, as soon as the new and alien is interiorized as native, its very novelty is destroyed. However, innovation is conditioned upon the other aspect of xenosis, namely the estrangement of the innovator who is condemned to stay in the outside position. The Angel of Novelty cannot halt in the process of xenosis, that is, in the process of estrangement:

That immense framework and planking of concepts to which the needy man clings his whole life long in order to preserve himself is nothing but a scaffolding and toy for the most audacious feats of the liberated intellect. And when it smashes this framework to pieces, throws it into confusion, and puts it back together in an ironic fashion, pairing the most alien things and separating the closest, it is demonstrating that it has no need of these makeshifts of indigence and that it will now be guided by intuitions rather than by concepts.

That immense framework and planking of concepts to which the needy man clings his whole life long in order to preserve himself is nothing but a scaffolding and toy for the most audacious feats of the liberated intellect. And when it smashes this framework to pieces, throws it into confusion, and puts it back together in an ironic fashion, pairing the most alien things and separating the closest, it is demonstrating that it has no need of these makeshifts of indigence and that it will now be guided by intuitions rather than by concepts.

The role of the poet as an innovator condemns him to play a central role inside of a tradition while staying outside. As Gregory Nagy suggests, the outsider is really inside the tradition attracting genuinely foreign features in order to reinforce his position which is central to the tradition.xxxv The outside position of the poet reinforces the tradition of his language; his homelessness reinforces the Home (Heimat).

Innovation has a paradoxical existence; it is not simply the creation of something new, but rather making the public recognize the alien quality of the novelty as familiar. This means that the telos - that is, the goal of innovation – is to annihilate itself as a potentiality. The potentiality of innovation, that is, bringing novelty forth, is never actualized. Instead, the potentiality of innovation entails an actualization that is not its own actualization, but that of convention. Since its genuine being cannot be actualized, innovation itself exists frozen in the state of potentiality and thus suspends its own goal. This is why the bird and the angel, as spirits of innovation, cannot rest by arriving at an end, yet are interrupted in their movement of changing from potentiality to actuality at the same time. The poet is, first of all, the innovator of language. Poetic innovation professes the chiasmic structure in which potentiality is frozen, while reaching the goal of actualization is interrupted. Poetry lies in the negative capability of ‘winning near the goal’, not in winning the goal itself. As to the question of estrangement, the alien qualities of poetic language appear as native within language, thus reinforcing the language community and alienating the poet. Poetry is an ever interrupted going home. The poet never stops to seek acceptance by the tradition and community, but his very being as a poet makes him escape it at the same time.

Nietzsche claims that metaphor is not a poetic phenomenon. Instead metaphor-making is an ineradicable human drive of cognitive regulation solidify power by building a safe home that keeps away alien elements. He in fact does not talk about the poet in his prose On Truth and Lying; he only talks about the liberated human, who can be compared to the culture hero in Nagy’s theory. This kind of hero can free himself from a metaphorically fabrication calcified tradition to renew it from his transcendental homelessness. This is xenosis; and the important lesson here is that innovation comes from estrangement, not from the inside.

Imagine the cultural hero not as the exiled or self-exiled poet, but as the migrant, given that the migrant has given up home, wanting to reinforce another tradition if given a chance. For the migrant and especially the migrant child everything is new and this is exactly why the more developed and consolidated a country is, the more it should embrace a supreme source of innovation: the migrant child. Imagine the angel of innovation as the migrant child.


i Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, based on the German Work of Francis Passow, with Corrections and Additions by Henry Drisler (New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1872).

ii Friedrich Nietzsche, ‚Darstellung der Antiken Rhetorik‘ in Kritische Gesamtausgabe, ed. Giorgio Colli and Mazzino Montinari (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1995), vol.2, number 4.

iii Carole and Gilman Blair, Sander L. and David J. D. Parent, Friedrich Nietzsche on Rhetoric and Language (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989), p. 21.

iv Friedrich Nietzsche, ‘Reinheit, Deutlichkeit und Angemessenheit der Elocution \ Purity, Clarity, and Appropriateness of the Elocutio’ in Friedrich Nietzsche on Rhetoric and Language ed. Carole and Gilman Blair and Sander L. David J. Parent (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989), p. 21, p. 27.

v The term solecism’ originates from the name of the Greek colony Soloi.

vi Nietzsche, ‘Reinheit, Deutlichkeit und Angemessenheit der Elocution’, p. 27.

vii Aristotle, Poetics, translated by Kennedy. 1991. 1404b6.

viii Paul Ricoeur, The Rule of Metaphor, trans. Robert Czerny, Kathleen McLaughlin and John Costello (London and Henley: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1978), p. 20.

ix See Paul de Man, Blindness and Insight: Essays in the Rhetoric of Contemporary Criticism, intro. Wald Godzich (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1983).

x Friedrich Nietzsche, ‘Begriff der Rhetorik’ in Friederich Nietzsche on Rhetoric and Language (1989), p. 21.

xi Ibid. p. 23.

xii Friedrich Nietzsche, Über Wahrheit und Lüge im auβermoralischen Sinne, in Kritische Gesamtausgabe (1995), vol. 3, number 2.

xiii Friedrich Nietzsche, ‘On Truth and Lying in an Extra­ moral sense’, in Friedrich Nietzsche on Rhetoric and Language ed. Carole and Gilman Blair and Sander L. David J. Parent (1989), p. 249.

xiv Friedrich Nietzsche, ‚Über Wahrheit und Lüge im auβermoralischen Sinne‘, in Kritische Gesamtausgabe (1995), vol. 3, number 2, p. 374.

xv Friedrich Nietzsche, “On Truth and Lying in an Extra­moral Sense” in Friedrich Nietzsche on Rhetoric and Language (1989), p. 251.

xvi Ibid.

xvii See Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophische Untersuchungen \ Philosophical Investigations trans. G. E. M. Anscombe (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1967).

xviii The topic of ‘transcendental homelessness’ cannot be treated with sufficient attention in this paper; I intend to develop the argument about the home/homelessness dynamic further in a future essay.

xix Rainer Maria Rilke, Neue Gedichte / New Poems, trans. Stephen Cohn (Manchester: Carcanet, 1997), p. 84.

xx Ibid. p. 85.

xxi Friedrich Nietzsche, “On Truth and Lying in an Extra-moral Sense” in Friedrich Nietzsche on Rhetoric and Language (1989), p. 255.

xxii Aristotle, The Complete Works of Aristotle, ed. Jonathan Barnes (1991), 1026b34-1065a2.

xxiii Werner Heisenberg, Philosophic Problems of Nuclear Science, p. 12.

xxiv Ibid. p. 12.

xxv Friedrich Nietzsche, ‚Über Wahrheit und Lüge im auβermoralischen Sinne in Kritische Gesamtausgabe (1995), vol. 3, number 2, p. 376.

xxvi Nietzsche, ‘Verhältnis der rhetorischen zur Sprache / The Relation of the Rhetorical to Language’, in Friedrich Nietzsche on Rhetoric and Language (1989), p. 23.

xxvii Ibid. p. 23.

xxviii Nietzsche, however, seems to discover an etymological interpretation of the word pithanon as ‘relatedness’ or relationality. This work also argues that persuasion exists as a relationality.

xxix Friedrich Nietzsche, ‘Verhältnis des Rhetorischen zur Sprache / The Relation of the Rhetorical to Language’ in Friedrich Nietzsche on Rhetoric and Language (1989), p.21 Translation is modified.

xxx Stanley Appelbaum, ed., Great German Poets of the Romantic Era: Berühmte Gedichte der deutschen Romantik (New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1995), p. 224.

xxxi Ibid. p. 225.

xxxii Aristotle. Edited by Freeze. 1991. 1458a21

xxxiii Nagy, Pindar's Homer (1990), p. 298.

xxxiv Walter Benjamin, ‘Thesis on the philosophy of History’ in Illuminations ed. Hannah Arendt, trans. Harry Zohn (New York: Schocken Books, 1968), pp. 257-258.

xxxv Nagy, Pindar's Homer (1990), p. 297.

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