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Nietzsche was a DJ

 Avital Ronell

This piece was put together in a Berlin studio for the maiden voyage of François Noudelmann's radio show on French Culture called "Je l'entends comme je l'aime" (I hear/understand it as I love it), inspired by Roland Barthes. Noudelmann is known for his philosophy radio programs and extensive interviews with contemporary writers and philosophers. This new show features philosophers, writers, and artists who discuss their private relation to music. They are asked to bring a "present" to the show, something that they created. For instance, both Hélène Cixous and Jean-Luc Nancy sang as their contribution. Guests are also to name a musician that they themselves interview. Ronell had a conversation with composer and musician Michael Lévinas (the son of Emmanuel Lévinas). The piece we republish here was her “present” to the show. The flute is played by Tatjana Mesar.


Transcription and Translation: Avital Ronell, Pearl Brilmyer, Trevor Hoag

(Ominous music plays)

(Ronell growls) Du Lampe, du Handtuch, du Teller. [You Lamp, You towel, You plate]

(Translator’s Note: These are the invectives of Freud’s Rat Man, before he has acquired the vocabulary to curse at his father. He seizes on arbitrary words that he pronounces with venom.)

(Background Voice) Du Lampe, Du Handtuch, Du Teller.

Ich habe alles wiederum vergessen. Como? Comment?  Est-ce possible? J’ai tout oublié. Zar sam sve zaboravila?  [I, for my part, have forgotten everything.  What?  Is it possible?  I’ve forgotten everything.]

(Ronell, desperate) Oh, eine. Oh, keine. Oh, niemand. Oh, du.  [Oh, one. Oh, none. Oh, no one.  Oh, you.]

(Flute exasperates)

Moi? Je suis le devenir anonyme du nom de Dieu. [Me?  I’m the anonymous becoming of the name of god.]

(Translator’s Note: These lines come from the poetry of Paul Celan as analyzed by Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe)

(Flute Enters, an arpeggio, and then a long sustained note)

If he said it once, he said it twice.

S’il le disait une foi, il le disait mille fois. [If he said it once, he said it twice.]

(Flute spits, almost laughing)

Je veux dire deux fois. Oui, deux fois. [I mean two times.  Yes, two times.]

(Flute Scatters About)

Friedrich Nietzsche understood opera to be the genre par excellence de la contamination.

In fact, it was not until he was a DJ (scratch) he was a DJ (scratch) he was a DJ (scratch), that Nietzsche started working on a reel to reel.

(Flute re-enters)

Scratching and popping, going with the disjunctive flow of sampling. That’s when he began to like what he saw. In the meantime, trouble was opera’s middle name. It would be lodged as the irony of the eternal return, showing signs of negativity and disease.


As if it still owed us something, if only an account of itself, opera has an outstanding debt. A debt. A debt. Une dette.

For the record, Nietzsche once felt that the choice of opera indicates a kind of vampirisme, a depletion of musical purity’s essential resources. Music used to be pure and strong, an accomplice to will.

(Thus Spoke Zarathurstra begins, plays a couple measures).

Where The Genealogy of Morals conceived music as the superior language, as the independent art as such, (Flute) set apart from all other arts in that it does not offer up images, but that it speaks rather the language of the will itself, directly, out of the abyss—

(Ronell’s voice shifts to almost a hiss) as its most authentic, elemental, non-derivative revelation; and where the musician became a kind of telephone from beyond, a ventriloquist of God . . . so Nietzsche, the Genealogy says that opera, which places music at the service of a text, is bad music (Ronell emphasizes).

(Flute flourish!)

In itself, music remains intelligible to the servant of Dionysus, while opera merely offers a remedy against pessimism. It marks the triumph of Socrates or Christ over Dionysus, of nihilism over life.

(Explosive flute!)

It operates on the wrong side of the sound-tracks.

(Ronell scolds) Wrong! Wrong! Bad! Bad!

(Flute Outro is from the opera "The Magic Flute," offering a gently ironic flourish that beckons to Nietzsche with long eyelashes...)