2007 Northeast Modern Language Association Panels
1-4 March, 2007
Baltimore, Maryland

Konstanze Baron
Universitat Konstanz

  "Critique and Its Dangers"


Do not cite without permission of the author.

The notion of critical fidelity raises the question of the normative preconditions of the critical acitivity. In this presentation, I am going to draw on Nietzsche's critique of morality in order to highlight the intrinsic relationship between moral standards and critique. Nietzsche's conviction in his later writings is that (Christian or slave-)morality is not going to succomb to an external enemy, but that it will eventually overcome itself – if only its internal standards are taken seriously by the critic. As a consequence, he insists on the notion of ‚Redlichkeit' (as ‚truthfulness to oneself'), which is going to be the driving force of this process of moral self-overcoming. At the same time, however, Nietzsche is very keen to point out the dangers of critique: since the critic of morality is himself a moral subject, the critique of morality will affect his own life and well-being. Only those critics (presumably like Nietzsche himself) who are strong and disciplined enough to risk their life and sanity in the process of criticizing Christianity and its related moral standards will succeed in the difficult task of bringing about the realm of a new species of more-than-human beings. This is the point where we have to part company with Nietzsche. Obviously, his ideal of a world ‚beyond good and evil' (and therefore beyond humanity) is not something we can positively endorse. However, we should ask what kind of relevance his insights have for our self-understanding as critics. If the idea of ‚truthfulness to oneself' is shown by Nietzsche to be self-contradictory and ultimately self-destructive, how can we prevent ourselves from becoming entangeld in a similarly fatal dialectic? With this question in mind, I am going to present two alternative conceptions of critical self-understanding (Adorno and Levinas) that seem to provide a sound alternative to Nietzsche's handling of the problem.