“This is why events unnerve me”: Teaching Neitzsche through Joy Division/New Order/Kylie Minogue

My Existentialism class is in the midst of reading Nietzsche’s The Gay Science. The GS deals with a lot of the themes and ideas in Zarathustra, which is what people usually assign in Existentialism classes, but the GS treats them more thoroughly and “philosophically,” as it were.

The GS is in many ways a repudiation of The Birth of Tragedy. Nietzsche offers “joyful wisdom” as a life-affirming critique of metaphysics and its “will-to-truth”; unlike the “seriousness” of life-negating metaphysics (aka, “tragedy”), joyful wisdom delights in “good conscience in the mask”. Joyful wisdom is Italian Opera, not Wagner. It’s dancing the can-can in hell. Importantly, joyful wisdom is a re-valuation of feminized “superficiality” and “triviality”. Because there is no “depth,” only “surface,” then we have no basis to de-value those things we deem trivial/superficial/”feminine”.

If you want the much, much longer and more thoroughly argued/referenced version of that analysis, I have a chapter I can send you from my forthcoming manuscript 🙂

Anyway, because I’m teaching this text, and because Nietzsche talks extensively about both music and femininity in book 2 of The GS, I was thinking that the Joy Division/New Order story is a somewhat effective way to capture the role of The GS in Nietzsche’s ouevre, and some of its general claims/positions.

So, there’s Joy Division. Its name comes from Nazi Slang. Its early songs are pretty much downers (Warsaw, anyone?). They’re NOT pop music; they’re kinda gloomy…sorta, you know, Wagnerian in mood (but certainly not in composition). And then there’s Ian Curtis — the Schopenhauer of Manchester, maybe? Joy Division = The Birth of Tragedy.

Ian Curtis hangs himself, and Joy Division re-forms as New Order — and, and, with a female keyboardist! (Gillian Gilbert, find her on Wikipedia). New Order doesn’t just make dance music, they make british dance music what it is; they are the beginning of the Madchester scene. Dis-tanz, indeed.

Watch them on Top of the Pops (!):

And then, there’s Kylie Minogue. Specifically, her Blue Monday re-edit of “Can’t Get You Outta My Head”. Kylie Minogue symbolizes all that is superficial, trivial, feminine and feminized about pop music: it’s fun, it’s not “deep”, it’s not difficult or hard or any of that. Kylie Minogue is “woman as the untruth of truth,” as Derrida would say.

Thus, the thesis of The Gay Science is Kylie Minogue remixing New Order.

(I chose the quote in the title from “Ceremony,” which was recorded by both Joy Division and New Order. It also has the same sort of structure and rhythm as the chapter titles in Beyond Good and Evil…)