Quotes from Lyotard: Nietzsche, Cage, and Capitalism

Overbeck Triumph of Religion in Art

Here’s a couple of quotes, courtesy of Lyotard, on Nietzsche and capitalism; what he’s saying, it seems to me, poetically points directly to the complicated abyss forming the hollow core of postmodernism, a void that makes Control’s Spectacle and the notion of critical “truths” indivisible from one another:

Kapital is at once depression, nihilism and the culmination of theology. Not at all on account of it reintroducing representations and institutions formerly destroyed. For it doesn’t do that in fact. It cannot do it, it plunges humanity into the theology of atheism, immerses it in the theology of a-theology, in the belief in (the death of) God. It reintroduces nothing, but itself rests upon the law of value, that is on the equality of the parties involved in any metamorphosis: labor-merchandise force, money merchandise, merchandise-money. This very equality constitutes the apparent objects represented in the play of the Return1 and keeps that Return from being the true voyage, for it forces metamorphosis to pass over the same grounds, to make use of the same channels again and again, and thus to become established. So does it maintain itself at the lowest level of intensity and maintain humanity as a whole in the nihilist depression and the petty fear. (Thus is the philosopher who teaches the loss of meaning and its endless postponement the curate neo-nihilistic theology, the parson of the religion of merchandise.)2


At one point, (precisely during the period of Human, All Too Human), Nietzsche tries to cure himself of Wagnerism, Rousseauism, Romanticism, he seeks measure, Classicism, Voltaire -and thus inclines towards a critical position. He is to Wagner what Adorno will be to Stravinsky. Schoenberg’s future music is what he longs for: to remain at the edge of dusk, to establish the work in a relation of critical analogy with “reality,” society. Entkunstung, the dissolution of the “work,” i.e., the taking upon oneself, in its very form of that which appears in reality as a dissolution. The new form dissolves its material, but the material itself is a mere residue of the previous form. Thus the new form resembles Kapital: dissonance = dissolution of previous codes. And more precisely desenitization, intellectualization of material, corresponding to the predominance of the exchange value in social reality. 3

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The music Nietzsche required in the last period, however, was no longer that of Schoenberg-Adorno, it was already the music of Cage, or Kagel’s. The question of form as a critique was by then giving way to that of sound as an intensity. To reevaluate the material: to abandon the critical point of view (and the paranoia inherent to all dogmatic critiques), to adopt as regards “reality” the point of view of affirmation. The dissolution of forms and individuals in the consumer society must be affirmed. It is the dissolution of set intervals that have made music into a scripture, that have depressed the sound into a note, that have repressed sonority in itself (the tone.) A trend outlined as early as the Klangfarbenmelodie. A trend that Cage, in the wake of Schoenberg, is going to carry to its limit, not only in destroying the domination over time which rhythm and the general organization of the piece of musics supposedly represent… but also in destroying the silence/sound relation, in showing that silence is sound as well…4

1The “Return” spoken of here is Nietzsche’s “Eternal Return,” that illusive topic that dives the precipice of reason, leaving it in the dust while simultaneously creating tensions within his own philosophical work – a multivoiced dissensus, existing within the same pages.

2Jean Francois Lyotard “Notes on the Return and Kapital” Nietzsche’s Return Semiotext(e), 1977 pgs. 47-48

3Ibid, pgs. 50-51

4Ibid, pg. 51

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