Dancing Ourselves to Death: The Subject of Emma Goldman's Nietzschean Anarchism

Christopher Rossdale

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This article draws together two lively and provocative radical theorists, Emma Goldman and Friedrich Nietzsche, and suggests that a reading at their intersections can inspire political thought, action, and resistance in particular ways. The argument is framed through and productive of a particular archetype which emerges from a reading of these thinkers, that of The Dancer. Both Goldman and Nietzsche have been noted for their affect-laden reflections on dance, as an image of the subject which evades capture within the frameworks of discipline, morality, and ressentiment and which instead commits to a ceaseless and creative insurrection of- and- against the self. Here, I argue that through this image of The Dancer we can conceptualise a form of critical or anarchic subjectivity which can provocatively interpret and inspire radical political action. In the article I look at some of the ways in which dance has formed an important component of radical politics. However I also argue that dance as understood in the terms established through Goldman and Nietzsche moves beyond corporeal performance, indicating a more general ethos of the subject, one of perpetual movement, creativity, and auto-insurrection. I also reflect on the difficulties involved in the idea of ‘self-creation’; as we can see from the more problematic dimensions of Goldman's thought, creation is an ethically and ontologically ambiguous concept which, when affirmed too easily, can serve to mask the subtleties by which relations of domination persist. With this in mind, the article goes on to discuss what it might mean to ‘dance to death’, to negotiate the burden of transvaluation, limitless responsibility, and perpetual struggle which these two thinkers evoke, in the service of a creative and limitless radical political praxis.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)116-133
Number of pages18
Issue number1
Early online date3 Nov 2014
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 3 Nov 2014

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