Nietzsche as Reservoir Dog With ‘Style’

A few months ago, an  ex-student of mine sent me the image–courtesy bros.failblog.org–above. It made him chuckle out loud; he was in a library when he came across it and decided to send it to me because he thought I would have a similar reaction. (This was shortly after I had announced that I would be teaching a Nietzsche seminar in the spring semester.) Well, it made me chuckle and chortle a bit. I sent it on to a couple of friends–yup, they chuckled too–, and went so far as to make it my GMail profile image.

But what is so funny here? The juvenile rhyming, the placement of the sunglasses on Nietzsche’s otherwise solemn visage, the color coding in black and white that evokes Tarantino-cool? Well, of course. And they work because in turning Nietzsche into a Reservoir Dog,  the image reinforces a well-established not-so-academic impression of Nietzsche that supposedly appeals to angsty undergraduates and teenagers everywhere: the ass-kicking, taking-no-prisoners polemicist, slashing and burning his way through the thickets of orthodoxy.  (This is the Nietzsche imagined walking into a Wild West saloon, and suggesting, not so gently, that everyone put down their rotgut whisky and pay attention to the Zarathustrian gunslinger now in town.) It might also be the Nietzsche that tries to emerge from Ecce Homo, letting everyone know what time it is, and why indeed, the clocks have been commanded to do so by him.

Let’s not forget too, that if you wanted to dig a bit deeper, you could associate ‘sunglasses’ with ‘style,’ and well, when you think of Nietzsche, don’t you remember all those times he went on–and on–about ‘style’?

From The Gay Science, Book IV, Section 290:

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 until everything appears as art and reason and even weakness delights the eye.

Or, from Twilight of the Idols, “Reconnaissance Raids of an Untimely Man”, Section 11:

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.

Finally, it might also be that we associate Nietzsche with laughter, for he often makes us laugh out loud when we read him. Sometimes the laughter is provoked by his wordplay, his puns; sometimes it is evoked by the pleasure he provides us as he goes after those that deserve his scorn, far more skillfully than we can imagine ourselves ever being able to. Nietzsche knows he can be a joker and a jester; in dressing him up as he has been above, we are reminded of that aspect of his persona. There was plenty of grimness in Nietzsche’s life, but his writing, at least, often tried its best to keep that at bay.