05 April 2010

[André Gide not only reshaped, but simultaneously criticized Nietzsche in] the novel Les caves du Vatican (Lafcadio's adventures) of 1914, famous for its depiction of a "gratuitous act" without premeditation, without any intention, advantage, or purpose, performed on impulse and possibly to gratify a desire for sensation. Lafcadio, the handsome young Nietzschean immoralist protagonist, had acted several times in a "gratuitous" way. Once at the risk of his life, he had rescued two little children from a burning house in Paris, but to show that the gratuitous act has nothing to do with morality, he also once acted differently while on a train to Rome. Opposite to him in his compartment was a bourgeois fellow, pedantically dressed, sweating a little, and constantly fumbling with his nose.

Counting to ten, Lafcadio opened the door of the car and pushed the man to death just as if he had chased away a fly. When his friend is later arrested for the deed, Lafcadio takes full responsibility, however, indicating that there really is no gratuitous act. Gidé's depiction of the murder is so stylized, so stereotypical and artificial that we are aware of seeing not real life at all, but literature. One can write about the gratuitous act, but not live it, for writing about it already demonstrates that it is unreal. Immoralism, like vitalism, requires counteraction, a corrective, an oscillation to its opposite, for it to become real and emerge from caricature.
Ernst Behler, "Nietzsche in the twentieth century," The Cambridge Companion to Nietzsche. 1996: 281-322. (297)

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