Kathleen Marie Higgins

Nietzsche's Genealogy and James Bond

The obsessions of On the Genealogy of Morals are reminiscent of Hollywood's contemporary thrillers. In the Genealogy Nietzsche concocts a brew of violence and voluptuousness, complete with sadistic thrills, sexual deviants, and multiple murders. This summary might as well advertise a James Bond movie. The pleasures to be experienced through control over other people's bodies is a central motif of both. Like a James Bond movie, the Genealogy presents a multifaceted mystery tale that we readers are invited to unravel. And we are, in Nietzsche's book as in the James Bond movie, the voyeurs of the unabashedly vicious, of those who get away with murder—and are even "licensed to kill."

Why, then, is the Genealogy so far from a pleasure to read? Perhaps I speak mostly of myself here: the exhilaration of many of Nietzsche's other writings is for me completely unavailable from this work. But surely I am not alone in this. I have been told by other readers that they find the book debilitating. Why does this work weigh so heavily?

Simone Weil suggests an explanation when she tells us, "Imaginary evil is romantic and varied; real evil is gloomy, monotonous, barren, boring."[1] Clearly, the themes of the Genealogy are not sufficient to produce a sense of bleakness. The sustained popularity of James Bond and Clint Eastwood movies testifies to that—and it vindicates Weil's first contention. Our movies' fantasies of murder with a good conscience—indeed with honor, glory, and sexual ecstasy attached—are a continual source of pleasure. They are also safe. Part of what delights us in the stories set in exotic and mythic places like the Wild West is that they grant our imaginations a license to kill without qualm, to be gluttons of lasciviousness without responsibility.

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