1 – The Concept of Style

Nietzsche’s maturity as a philosopher and writer of philosophy begins in full with his rejection of a standpoint beyond style from which we judge the process of writing, write, or extract a text’s meaning. There is no transcendent compositional counterpoint, nor a projected (Husserlian) natural standpoint which captures the hidden textual essence corresponding to an objective science. Style is the embodiment in tangible detail of the inspired, Dionysiac frenzy which surfaces into “meaning” disclosed only by the sensual (actual) language of poetry.
Nietzsche writes in Ecce Homo:

This is also the point for a general remark about my art of style. To communicate a state, an inward tension of pathos, by means of signs including the tempo of these signs — that is the meaning of every style. Good is any style that really communicate an inward state, that makes no mistake about the signs, the tempo of the signs, the gestures — all the laws about long periods are concerned with the art of gestures.
Good style in itself — a pure folly, mere ‘idealism’ … 4

The surety of the signs, their rhythmic placement on the page, or tempo, the gestures which express individualized pathos are style. Style is not found in extratextual correspondence with higher truth, or in following, or denying, textbook metrics. It is, rather, a mark of a specific plurality of signs which immediately, materially, embody, a pathos on a page, the Dionysiac intoxication of the will.
Style is not then, a primarily aesthetic concept for Nietzsche. Style should be identified with a disclosed movement, an expression in gesture, a precision without fuss — talent, in other words — which reveals fully an individual’s relation to their will to power. The notion goes beyond the aestheticism found in The Birth of Tragedy with its intention to, ” … look at science in the perspective of the artist, but at art in that of life.” 5 More precisely, it amplifies the following statement found in The Will to Power: ” … the world is a work of art which gives birth to itself.”6 The work of art becomes in the larger context the reality of style in life, and thus breaks the narrower limits of what we know as aesthetics in philosophy. For the placement of the will which characterizes any will as that will, as unique, as an individual will, when it truly surfaces, when it wills, surfaces as style.
In The Gay Science Nietzsche remarks:

One thing is needful. ‘Giving style’ to one’s character — a great and rare art. It is exercised by those who see all the strengths and weaknesses of their own natures and then comprehend them in an artistic plan.
… it is the weak characters without power over themselves who hate the constraint of style … 7

Clearly style is a statement not merely about the quality of a given perception but also about the perceiver’s way of perceiving, which is structured and created as an expression of, not only through (atavistic) behavior style as personality, but through fictively invented character as style, through a revaluation of values. Style reveals how an individual responds to and invents the total constitution of the world in which he or she is engaged.
Style in writing, therefore, is the signature of that will which cannot be duplicated or forged. It embodies the signature of the voice which specifically spoke on this or that day, and with this or that aim. But style is also part of a goal, an artistic forging of a new approach to an individual’s strengths, and weaknesses. While placing the specific, variable states, it also reveals the mastery of passions which those states entail, revealing the giving of style, to the raw unfolding of an elemental will.
The judgments and choices which follow individual valuations inevitably invite approval or disapproval. Mastery, at this point, is courage. While certainly far from “disinterested” contemplation, each sign embodies the willing subject’s controlled passion and reveals the pattern, the taste, the voluntary restraint one has, (or the “letting-go”, the slovenliness) in response to the vitality of one’s own will.

In his search for the source, the fund of energy, then, from which the individual draws, Nietzsche began to explore the use of metaphors of quantity. He describes a superabundance, an overrich “quantum” of power which supersedes the effort merely to survive, which expresses not merely an accommodation with the suffering of existence but a readiness to suffer, to sacrifice, to squander out of plenitude. This culminates in what he calls the grand style:

The highest feeling of power and sureness finds expression in a grand style. The power which no longer needs any proof, which spurns pleasing, which does not answer lightly, which feels no witness near, which lives oblivious of all opposition to it, which reposes within itself, fatalistically, a law among laws — that speaks of itself as a grand style. 8

Nothing seems to be able to prevail against the grand style, which seems to be an end in itself. It is the consummation of style as it is an expression of an affirmation of self in overflow. It expresses itself without the need of parasitism, without any assurance beyond its own abundance, its own will. All gesturing, self-conscious or “aesthetic” acting, then, is overwhelmed by the power which refuses to please, waver or placate.
In his first volume on Nietzsche, The Will to Power as Art, Heidegger compares romantic striving to the sensation of the grand style:

The grand style is the highest feeling of power. Romantic art, springing from dissatisfaction and deficiency is a wanting-to-be-away-from oneself. But according to its proper essence, willing is to-want-oneself. Of course, “oneself” is never meant as what is at hand, existing just as it is: “oneself” means what first all wants to become what it is. Willing proper does not go away from itself, but goes way beyond itself; in such surpassing itself the will captures the one who wills, absorbing and transforming him into and along with itself. Wanting-to-be-away-from-oneself is therefore basically a not-willing. In contrast, wherever super-abundance and plenitude, that is, bring themselves under the law of the simple, willing wills itself in its essence, and is will. Such will is the will to power. 9

And Heidegger adds at the end of his chapter on the “grand style”: “In the grand style art becomes actual.”10
Now the constrast between romantic and Dionysiac art is laid bare. Style constitutes a simple, direct expression which does not attempt to reach “beyond” language as actuality. Nothing is “forced” but the writing is forceful. No emotions are evoked or summoned, the writing is the emotion. There is no “acting” and yet the essence is actuality.
From actuality comes precision, as Nietzsche writes of the author (himself, no doubt) who, “handles language like a flexible rapier, feeling from arm down to his toes the dangerous delight of the quivering, over-sharp blade that desire to bite, hiss, cut — “11 With this sense of mastery, there is no need for histrionics, for “airs”. One does not swoon, but rather acknowledges what one is with every stroke.
Improvising on Nietzsche’s style-metaphors, Jacques Derrida suggests that, “… style would seem to advance in the manner of spur of sorts (√©peron) like the prow, of a sailing vessel … which surges ahead to meet the sea’s attack and cleaves it’s hostile surface.” 12
The Latin word stylus could refer to a quill — “But it could just as easily be a stiletto, or even a rapier … whose thrust could not but leave its mark, could not inscribe there some imprint or form.”13 The style-spur, “perforates even as it parries.”14 Derrida cannot keep himself from exploiting the masculine-feminine metaphor and falls into the trap of criticizing romantic aesthetics as an image of a merely “feminine” expression. Moreover, it is not the Eternal Feminine but actual women or “woman” whom Derrida takes as the “object” of the style-spur’s “thrust”. Thus, his work, here, so creatively promising, is also frustrating. Nietzsche’s misogyny, and now Derrida’s, only slightly hidden (“veiled”) by chivalric imagery and deconstructionist evasion, reduces the question of style to a male/female clich√©: the strong attachment to truth and the hidden suggestibility of the “truth-castrate” woman. The sword and phallic metaphors themselves never really penetrate the “veil of truth”, but remains a sort of self-play, or to be more gentle, a self-indulgent improvisation for Derrida.
Derrida does suggest, however, an apt critique of Heidegger’s approach to Nietzsche’s notion of art: “In the final analysis, however, such an attitude is nothing more than the reassurance and corroboration of the very order which it pretends to oppose and which it escapes intact.”15 Even though Heidegger warns of the “heroic-boastful” (“heroish-prahlerischen”) misinterpretation of the “Wagnerian philistines” regarding the question of style, he often seems more impressed by the word “Grand” than intent on explicating the content of the concept. Derrida maintains: “Reading is freed from the horizon of the meaning or truth of being … Whereupon the question of style is immediately unloosed as a question of writing.”16 True. This comment contrasts with what is insensitive in Heidegger’s approach to Nietzsche’s concept of style. Heidegger understands how art can identify itself with the creative will, but he uses the opportunity — after replacing what is truly physical (“materialistic” in Nietzsche’s explication of style and in a “quantum” of power) to reiterate his own notion of Being : the concept of the grand style becomes a tour de force for Heidegger’s promotion of his concept of Being.
Nietzsche, however, emphasizes the lightness, the delicacy, the play of nuance, the Mediterranean limpidity, inherent in the grand style. It is opposed to “German” heaviness, the scholarly stiffness which is undeniably part of Heidegger’s near Scholastic own style. In Beyond Good and Evil Nietzsche speaks of style, physiologically. as a free-thinking, “bold and merry” tempo which refutes by example the torpor of academese. 17 Beyond the “swampy” rate of exposition and our forced academicism there is a bodily presence, a healthy, athletic, prankish, sexual, strong, and yet lilting, mellifluent, Italian, humorous, limpid poetry, in which every motif, every phrase, demonstrates the confidence of a grand style. A work of art should never compromise its wit or intellect, but communicate a sensation of a gallop, an effortless sprint, or lightfooted dance.
Nietzsche notes that it is precisely this brisk pace and a taste for it which expresses itself in any writing worth considering. He mentions this quality in Machiavelli who,

… in his Principe let us breathe the dry, refined air of Florence and cannot help presenting the most serious matters in a boisterous allegrissimo, perhaps not without a malicious artistic sense on the contrast he risks — long, difficult, hard, dangerous thoughts and the tempo of the gallop and the very best, most capricious humor?
Who, finally could venture on a German translation of Petronius, who more than any great musician so far, was a master of presto in invention, ideas and words? What do the swamps of the sick, wicked world, even the “ancient world”, matter in the end, when one has the effect of a wind as he did, the rush, the breath, the liberating scorn of a wind that makes everything healthy by making everything run! 18

Expressing this confidence, style also enjoys taking its “own time.” It exudes a collected presence which is grand, and yet it expresses this through movement, through an energetic, suppleness, a brisk tempo. This lightness of cadence reflects an energy in its rate of delivery of lines on the page, and in its tempo, without seeming to press. A light, intoxicated sense of rhythm is an enemy of the “spirit of gravity” and achieves profundity through a laughing sarcasm. There is nothing of the black and foggy North, the halting, stout, clumsy constraint which is de rigueur of professorial prose. The problem is naturally compounded if it is from this class of writers that we must draw our translators. Not only are we subject to the lack of true grand style in our “cultural” writers, but our classics can also be adulterated by inadequate translations.
It is rather the lean, swift, laughing, sensual style which Nietzsche admires. All gesturing, self-conscious or staged “aesthetic” hoisting, then, is overwhelmed by the style which penetrates without pausing to wrap itself in an aura of profundity. The same way in which a composer drafts a movement, and hears the light rapidity of his own musical thoughts wherein no thematic subtlety stands back from the sound, the trace of writer’s pen, the complete, the fundamental mark of his or her self. The clip or tempo of his style surfaces in concrete, specific detail, in tangible, tactile prose or poetry.
And it has energy, naturality, power, vivacity since it is an affirmation of will and in this sense “proves” its style through its incarnation completely into tangible or tactile metaphor — but, at the same time, it can mock itself — it is not preponderant — but light, playful. Nietzsche writes on Aristophanes:

And as for Aristophanes — that transfiguirng, complementary spirit for whose sake one forgives everything Hellenic for having existed, provided one has understood in its full profundity all that needs to be forgiven and transfigured here — there is nothing that has caused me to meditate more on Plato’s secrecy and sphinx nature than the happily preserved petit fait that under the pillow on his deathbed there was found no “Bible”, nor anything Egyptian, Pythagorean or Platonic — but a volume of Aristophanes. How could even Plato have endured life — a Greek life he repudiated — without an Aristophanes? 19

Part of the “gallop” of style and essential to its lightness is the gift and talent for light-hearted, prankish laughter. Style ought to embody the recognition of laughter which retrieves while it unveils the absurdity of life from the defeat of gloom or despair (a romantic plume de guerre). The sense of levity is ascendant and necessary in the transfiguration of the “weight” of the world into a joke by the precision of laughter, which is itself a divine talent to affirm in full lucidity our fate regardless of our pain. Lightness of step requires an Amor Fati.
Again, even though the style which expresses power may be grand, it must also be concise, never merely ‘throwing its weight around’:

My taste, which may be the opposite of a tolerant taste, is in this case too far from saying Yes indiscriminately; it does like to say Yes; rather even No; but best of all nothing. That applies to whole cultures, it applies to books — also to places and landscapes. At bottom it is a very small number of ancient books that counts in my life; the most famous are not among them. My sense of style, was awakened when I came into contact with Sallust. I have not forgotten the surprise of my honored teacher, Corsen, when he had to give his worst Latin pupil the best grade: I had finished with one stroke, compact, sever, with as much substance as possible, a cold sarcasm against “beautiful words” and “beautiful sentiments” — here I found myself. And even in my Zarathustra one will recognize a very serious ambition for a Roman style, for the aere perennius in style.
Nor was my experience any different in my first contact with Horace. To this day, no other poet has given me the same artistic delight that a Horatian Ode gave me from the first. In certain languages that which has been achieved here could not even be attempted. This mosaic of words, in which every word — as sound, as place, as concept — pours out its strength right and left and over the whole, this minimum in the extent and number of signs and the maximum thereby attained in the energy of the signs — all that is Roman and, if one will believe me, noble par excellence. All the rest of poetry becomes, in contrast, something too popular — a mere garrulity of feelings. 20

Instead of denoting something large (as even Heidegger recognizes) the term “grand” means “concise” when denoting it. The confidence is light and lean, and condenses whole worlds into a few lines. These signs explode with nuance and suggest something further and more profound than any one reader or reading can exhaust. Condensation of imagery and of content brings the signs which make up the poem into an intense inner realization (as in a mosaic) which reflect an inexhaustible energy not only with reference to the world: but to itself, so that it comprises its own play of references, its own world. This is the key to its self-sufficiency, to the confidence of poetic art, to talent as grand style.
Yet this explanation of Nietzsche’s concept of style in poetry is incomplete. Nietzsche makes a transition from his notion of the epigram to a concept of style in poetry, but there is nothing here or generally in Nietzsche’s middle works which differentiates his definition of poetry from that of the epigram.
Further, it is evident from many of Nietzsche’s poems which prefix and append The Gay Science that the humor and concision which he demonstrates, this “minimum in the extent and number of signs and the maximum thereby attained in the energy of the signs”21 is not enough to distinguish a “poem” from a rhymed epigram.
Nietzsche’s statement about Sallust’s style, which was, “compact, severe, with as much substance as possible, a cold sarcasm again ‘ beautiful words’ and ‘beautiful sentiments’ is reflected again in an aphorism comparing prose and poetry:

Prose and Poetry It is noteworthy that the great masters of prose have almost always been poets, too — If not publicly than at least secretly, in the “closet”. For it is an uninterrupted, well-mannered war with poetry: all of its attractions depend on the way in which poetry is continually avoided and contradicted. Everything abstract wants to be read as a prank against poetry to drive the lovely goddess into lovely despair. Often there are rapprochements, reconciliations for a moment — and then a sudden leap back and laughter. Often the curtain is raised and harsh light let in just as the goddess is enjoying her dusks and muted colors. Often the words are taken out of her mouth and sung to a tune that drives her to cover her refined ears with her refined hands. Thus there are thousands of delights in this war, including the defeats of which the unpoetic souls, the so-called prose-men do not know a thing; hence they write and speak only bad prose. War is the father of all good things; war is also the father of good prose. 22

There is at once a compliment and a challenge to poetry in this passage, but also to prose. There is no good prose without an agon mocking the refinement and delicacy of the “lovely goddess”. Nobility in poetry requires a struggle with an insipidness which one must learn to counter in order to write well. One must have “fingers” for “dusks and muted colors” and febrile melodies. And, one must be able to laugh at them. Through mockery and prankishness the tensile edge of style rises into flame.
But if we recall Nietzsche’s remarks on the epigram and his concept of the stylist who, ” … handles his language like a flexible rapier,”23 we realize that his concept of style in prose takes for its paradigm the epigram its sense of irony, its severe condensation, and its pointed, barblike precision. There is nothing in Nietzsche’s theory or in his own writings which would direct us toward the other end of the spectrum, towards journalism or the baggy romantic novel, both of which claim and degrade the factuality of prose. Yet it is necessary also to differentiate the epigram from the poem before we look more closely at Nietzsche’s concept of tempo. This will not only serve to demarcate what, for Nietzsche, a poem is in terms of this “war” within style, but will also relate the discussion to the issue of Dionysiac inspiration and help us to consider Nietzsche’s position with regard to the underlying difference between these genres.