Nietzsche, Klossowski and the laughter of the gods

Of Adrian Ercolani

Pierre Klossowski’s melee with Friedrich Nietzsche begins in 1937, in the glorious times of the magazine Acephale and finds a decisive fulfillment in the 1969 essay on Nietzsche and the vicious circle.

As the curator Giuseppe Girimonti Greco writes, the two texts now collected by Adelphi with the title Nietzsche, polytheism and parody, they are “the first mature essays that Klossowski dedicates to an author destined to become a fixed point of his reflection, but above all the main inspiring model of his poetics and of his entire production, essay and literary.”.

These are two essays of considerable interest: the first is On some fundamental themes of Nietzsche’s <>, or the introduction to the edition edited by Klossowski of the Nietzschean classic in ’56; the second, which gives the title to the publication, is the text of an extraordinary conference held at the Collège de Philosophie in Paris the following year.

It is revealing how Klossowski, so close to the more darkly mysterious aspects of Nietzschean thought, deals with the text that hinges on the path of the German philosopher, that is, the book which, after the beginning of the “campaign against morality” (as he will define it in Ecce Homo) marked by Aurora, leads from the “enlightenment” reflection of Human, all too human (even dedicated to Voltaire), to the oracular abyss (and in this sense highly parodic, to stay on topic) of Thus spake Zarathustra.

As Maurizio Ferraris notes in his reflection on The poster ( “Twice, in the first of the two essays, Klossowski writes that the Gay science comes out twenty years afterOutdated about the story. Since this dates back to 1876 then the gay science it would be from 1896. But as we know it is from 1882. It is not a translation error because it is also in the original. It can’t be an oversight by Klossowski either because he writes it in the introduction to his translation of the Gay scienceand because – pay attention while reading – he spends a few pages explaining how in Gay science we witness the karstic re-emergence of ancient themes, which precisely makes sense for works that are twenty, and not six years apart”.

This “karstic re-emergence”, which perhaps unconsciously drives the aforementioned oversight, is even more evident in the first writings of the “philologist” Nietzsche and the latest, suspended between full awareness of his own greatness and incipient madness, of the prophet of the Overman.

Not surprisingly, Klossowski cannot fail to mention when speaking of the latter Outdated consideration of 1876 (“at the antipodes of every philosophy of history deriving from Hegel”), Friedrich Hölderlin, brother of Nietzsche by the “tenacious nostalgia” (as from the common initiatory landing place to madness) which is the “true inspirer of the anti-Hegelian conception”: one day we will have to dedicate ourselves to a crucial reflection on the antithetical divergence of destinies, on the marvelous and heartbreaking antinomy of the philosophical and existential outcomes of which the two university students, Hegel and Hölderlin, were the protagonists, singers in love with Eleusis in their small room in Tübingen, 48 years earlier that the future was born in Röcken Dionysus Crucified (as he alternatively signed himself in the so-called “tickets of madness” sent from Turin in recent years to various cultural and political figures).

It is not even a coincidence that Klossowski at the beginning of his introduction, posing the problem of how perhaps it is up to events, “the verification of a thought and its actuality”, exalts “the illuminative character” and the “ecstatic serenity” of The gay scienceprecisely at the moment in which, paradoxically, he defines it as a work “fruit of the greatest solitude imaginable”.

In the text of the following conference, the “karstic re-emergence” of the themes (such as the leitmotifs in the operas of the loved/hated Wagner) is shown by Klossowski in a dizzying argumentative crescendo, which accompanies the reader (originally the listener) to conclusions as daring as convincing: starting from the assumption that “Nietzsche did not develop a philosophy, but (…) variations on a personal theme”, “at the mercy of an inexplicable revelation of existence which can only be expressed through song and image” , Klossowski, while not making it explicit, in a certain sense leads us to think that the entire Nietszchean path is, as a good disciple of Heraclitus, the search for the balance between the Apollonian and the Dionysian, even in the mad (are we sure?) final identification with Dionysus and the Crucifix, if it is true that “the two names of Christ and Dionysus with their antagonism form a balance”.

As Antonio D’Alonzo writes ( “For Klossowski, Nietzsche’s madness is fundamental in the historical evolution of European thought, because it brings to fulfillment the reality principle and its existential referent, the identity principle. This double dissolution operated by Nietzsche makes possible the beginning of parody, the end of tragedy and the beginning of life as a game, where playful lightness can complete the overcoming of metaphysics.”.

In fact, Klossowski openly declares, in a crucial passage of his conference: “<> does not mean that divinity perishes as an explanation of existence, but rather that the absolute guarantor of the identity of the responsible ego disappears from the horizon of Nietzsche’s consciousness, which in turn is confused with this disappearance. If the concept of identity vanishes, the conscience is left with nothing else, at first, than the advent of the fortuitous”.

This brings us back to the first, enlightening, note of My heart laid bare by Baudelaire (not an intimate diary, but fragments of works ideally intended for publication), namely: “Of the vaporization and centralization of the ego. Everything is there.”

We are faced with the intuition of the concept of “Will to Power”, in a nutshell, by a genius close to agony, who seeks in dandysm a radical form of Gnostic asceticism (we are talking about 1864, the year from which we receive a portrait of a twenty-year-old Nietzsche, plump and hairless, not yet transformed into the famous physiognomy of the great “mustachioed hammerer” as Costanzo Preve called him).

The first words of Klossowski’s introduction are precisely: “Nietzsche’s name seems hopelessly associated with the concept of will to power: and not so much with the concept of will as with pure and simple power”, thus begins an intelligent and heartfelt defense of the “denazification ” of the thinker, which will then be completed by the admirable philological work of Colli and Montinari.

Towards the end of the conference, however, Klossowski outlines the relationship between polytheism and parody ever more clearly, in passages of stupendous clarity: “Existence as the eternal return of all things is produced in the physiognomies of as many gods as there are its possible explanations in the soul of men. If the will adheres to this perpetual motion of the universe, it is above all the circle of the gods which contemplates” the universe, which is none other than, quoting a famous passage from Zarathustra“the eternal escape and finding each other of many gods, as happy contradicting each other, hearing each other again, belonging again to many gods”.

In this unreferable contemplation of divine becoming, the need emerges to break through the limits of language through parody, to reveal its ludicrous contradictions, to mock the attempts of reason to define the mystery, as if to mirror the immortal laughter of the divinities: “The laughter it is here as the supreme image, the supreme manifestation of the divine which absorbs the uttered gods and pronounces the gods with a new burst of laughter; for if the gods die of this laughter, it is from this laughter that bursts forth from the bottom of the whole truth that the gods are reborn”.

At this point the reflection of Maurice Blanchot appears centered in the essay, significantly titled The laughter of the gods (in Italian it is found in the SugarCode edition The laws of Hospitality, in the appendix to Klossowka’s novel), when he sees in Klossowski’s literary work a humorous force that is not merely parodic or derisive, but finds in the outburst of laughter “the ultimate goal or meaning of a theology”.

fromHymn to Demeter to the Divine Rascal by Jung and Kerény (I point out the article by Annamaria Iacuele, between Hermes and Dionysus, the thought returns to the sacred Hindu poem Devi Mahatmyamin which the laughter of the Goddess Durga shakes the three worlds, before the divine vengeance carries out the massacre of the overpowering demons.

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Nietzsche, Klossowski and the laughter of the gods