2 – Against Romantic Sentiment

When attacking George Sand’s Lettre d’un Voyageur, Nietzsche likens her work to everything that is descended from Rousseau: false, fabricated, bellows, exaggerated, “I cannot stand this motley wallpaper style any more than the mob aspiration for generous feelings.”1. And, he adds, “How cold … like all romantics as soon as they took up poetic invention.” 2.
Nietzsche defies literary convention, the textbook wisdom which takes the immediacy, “warmth” or transcedence of Romantic literature for dramatic tension or real passion. For Nietzsche, calculated emotion, contrived to impress and overwhelm a bourgeoise public is a clockwork mechanism, a self consciousness, a sanctified bathos.
In crititizing Saint Beuve, Nietzsche writes, “Nothing of virility, full of petty wrath … related to the ressentiment of Rousseu’s instinct of revenge”. He calls him, “poet, and half-female … a critic without standard … a historian without philosophy. He adds, “It is different … [where] a fine well-worn taste is the highest tribunal … there Saint Beuve has courage … there he is the master. In some respects, a preliminary version of Baudelaire.”3
Why Nietzsche makes an exception for Baudelaire, who was certainly a late romantic and decadent, we shall discuss later. Let us first consider the ressentiment of Rousseau’s revolt against reason and culture and his subsequent influence as the originator of the romantic-democratic championing of the rights of the bourgeoisie and the “oppressed” — nearly defining Nietzsche’s critique of a slave-morality — an instinct for revenge which assumes the guise of morality in order to triumph over, and punish the naturally talented. The feeling of religious sympathy for the “poor in spirit”, the manufactured guilt opposing science and fineness of taste resents what we have won after centuries of cultural overflow. The ruse of “equal rights” in politics can translate into a revenge against high culture in the name of those refuted by it. Those who represent this ressentiment appeal to the herd, who feel refuted by higher culture, or science. This demogoguery has evolved after Rousseau into an inflated moral in literature and in music (re: Wagner), and expresses a deeply-founded instinct for revenge through moralized sentiment, ranked upside-down according to its concentration of malice. If reasonably considered, romantic sentiments seem arbitrary, but with psychological reflection they prove to be quite “logical” corrolaries of revenge.
For instance, in the The Case Against Wagner, Nietzsche maintains that, “They [The Wagnerians] believe one becomes selfless in love because one desires the advantage of another human being, often against one’s own advantage. But in return … they want to possess the other person.” 4. The contradiction betrays that there is no emotional “identification” between two subjects. Rather, how can there be love without the affirmation of an other, independant self? By contrast, Nietzsche understands love as a, “Fatum, as fatality, cynical, innocent, cruel — and precisely in this a piece of nature.”5. further, in The Gay Science he admires Brutus’ need to sacrifice Caesar, “his best friend and lover.”6. And he frankly prefers Bizet’s sensuous and realistic Carmen which ends with the line: “Yes, I have killed her, I — my adored Carmen!” 7.
The contrast between this harsh but startling Dionysiac love and traditional romantic love cannot be understood without questioning first the supposed selflessness this romantic love entails. To be “selfless” while also wanting to possess the object of one’s affection is to indulge in a selfish intention with a bad concience — an intention which disclaims its desire for pity toward the beloved. Selflessness sanctifies a weak alibi for a self which cannot construe love without the artifice of denying its independance, even as it exercises it (with, a disclaimer).
Pity makes the same claim to “selflessness” or, rather, conceals the existence of its own willfulness, within the guise of denied self-interest. The “object” of pity is deprived of any elemental dignity, independence and patronized as the pitying “subject”. Without seeing in that other, weakened self anything but something pitiable, the selfless patron gains an opportunity (again) to react to his or her own affects, and yet they are disclaimed selfless. And so pity degrades the “object” of affection just as it denies the projection of its own lying subjectivity.
Nietzsche also clearly attacks the romantic tenet of the Eternal Feminine which Goethe divinized in his untragic (Second Book) ending to Faust. On the one hand, there are too many instances where Nietzsche associated poetry with femininity, not to reveal his undeniable (and indefensible) moments of misogyny. We must face this misogyny, even if doing so prove painful. But, on the other hand, we ought also to approach what is philosophically significant in his rejection, much of the charm of the Eternal Feminine may well reflect a habit of thought which has nothing to do with the freedom of women. As a romantic value it represents a disembodiment of woman reworked as an erotic ideal. For Nietzsche it’s a self-indulgence of pity or transferred, half-secularized religious sentiment which seeks “equal rights” not for women but for a moral superiority over natural and classically refined talent. Thus, it is not a disclosure of love, nor fertility, but of their debasement, their absence concealed in insipid sacredness. This concept of “feminine” surely does not pertain to free, actual, embodied individuals; it is nothing but a “spiritualized,” disembodied, conventional symbol.
Romantic aesthetics claims that sentiment and emotion are fundamental to poetry. This thesis makes the affective reaction of the subject, and what is disclosed about the subject having that reaction, the basis of poetry. Contrast, now, this romantic poetics with Dionysiac lyric poetry wherein the subject loses him or herself in the fertility and comprehensive productivity of the will. Such poetry grounds emotion in the creativity (the reality) of the will. The attempted transcedence of the romantic never fully reaches beyond the subject as a first-hand witness to its own reaction; judging the truth of its own “transcendence” through the intensity of that reaction. In The Will to Power we find the entry: “Whether behind the antithesis classic and romantic there does not lie hidden the antithesis active and reactive?” 8
The claim here is that the romantic pity has a decadent relation to its own will to create; it wants to create while self-consciously experiencing the “transcedence” as a reaction against that creativity, thus making that a feeling, and the goal of creativity. It is impossible for something false not to triumph here. For this attitude privileges a reactive relation which tacitly tags a value to the subject’s self-indulgence while overtly disclaiming all interest in the pose of “selflessness”. The self is disclaimed even as it acts with the utmost selfishness, which defines, “poetry”.
Contrasting the Romantic with the Dionysiac, Nietzsche writes in The Gay Science:
What is Romanticism? — Every art, every philosophy may be viewed as a remedy and aid in the service of growing and struggling life; they always presuppose suffering and sufferers. But there are two kinds of sufferers: first, those who suffer from the overfullness of life — they want a Dionysian art and likewise those who suffer from the impoverishment of life … 9

Although seeming to be compassionate and interested in the oppressed, the romantic drowns in his or her self as an impoverishment — indulging, watching, recording, exploiting, while reacting, to a negation. The romantic is even less capable of generosity, caught in a reactive impasse between an impoverished relation to the self and the (now, ironic) claim to selflessness.
What Nietzsche calls the active source of inspiration as opposed to the reactive rejects an emotional afflatus for a making which expresses a surplus fund of power as an affirmation of a will, directly opposed to the unmaking of ressentiment which offers what it cannot give to a public by (publicly) indulging emotions which feed revenge back into the self-relation of that public.*

*Le Chien et le Flaçon

–Mon Beau chien, mon bon chien, mon cher toutou, approachez et venez respirer un excellent parfum acheté chez le meilleur parfumeur de la ville.
Et le chien, en frétillant de la queue, ce qui est, je crois, chez ces pauvres êtres, le signe correspondant du rire et du sourire, s’approache et pose curieusement son nez humide sur le flacon débouché; puis, reçulant soudainement avec affroi, il aboie contre moi, en manière de raproche.
Ah! misérable chien, si je vous avais offert un paquet d’excréments, vous l’auriez flairé avec délices et peur-etre dévoré. Ainsi, vous-même, indigne compagnon de ma triste vie, vous ressemblez au public, à qui il ne faut jamais présenter des parfums délicats qui l’exaspèrent, mais des ordures soigneusement choisies. 10

What is false, then, in romantic invention? Nietzsche might turn this question around: What is not false? Sentiment which masks ressentiment, spontaneity which evaporates before the calculation of revenge, pity which patronizes the dignity of the pitied, love which deprives the “beloved” of independence; how can these emotions be, as well, a verification of truth? And how can poetry based on mere sentiment ever be anything but calculated invention, exaggeration, or the self-interest of revenge?
Nietzsche necessarily struggles, then, to separate Dionysianism from Romanticism, real fertility from “wonderous” possibility, procreative presence and actuality from the disembodied worship of the Eternal Feminine. The deflation of romantic sentiment follows from a critique which reveals that the emotionalism and sentiment, the exaggeration, the “bellows,” the histrionicism — conceals an intention behind the romantic claims of selflessness, or rather, because of them, and so make the romantic poet, an actor.