Throughout the present work,[1] we have discretely pointed to the racialist thought of the group of writers around Mehyan2 and thus, in effect, to the fact that racialization and the aesthetic principle go hand in hand. In the final chapters of Part Two, these pointers became more precise. In the nineteenth century, mythical-poetic power was clearly imaged as an Aryan capability, while, inversely, the category “Aryan” stood in close relation to what had been imaged in the form of the mythical and poetical. The polemic Goldziher carried on against Renan and Max Müller only confirms the power of these categories, since the capacity to produce original myths and the identification of peoplehood with this capacity were by no means challenged by the man who would soon become one of the foremost representatives of Islamic studies. Everything that Constant Zarian and Hagop Oshagan say in unison and at great length in the pages of Mehyan, from the Manifesto to the March 1914 essays about the “return to the fatherland” and the appeal to create a new mythology, are in this vein[2]. It is true that the appeal in question and the very idea of a “new mythology” already take us beyond the realm of philological categories and what we have called, with increasing insistence in the course of this book, “ethno-mythology,” that is, more or less, the pact between evolutionary ethnology and the science of comparative mythology, a pact that is one of the forms taken by the mytho-poetic faith and racialized thought – or, quite simply, the stock-in-trade of the philology of the period. This appeal and this idea are more than philological categories because they include, implicitly, a political dimension. We have referred repeatedly, in the preceding pages, to Oshagan’s powerful declaration about the need for certain kinds of “universal fiction” or “universal lie,” meaning, very precisely, a “new mythology,” or, in a word, a modern mythology, an artistic mythology[3]. With this declaration, Oshagan confirmed that he believed (at least in 1914, in the period when he was associated with Zarian) in the formative power of myth. Myths are the products of a “fictional” capacity. They have, by that very fact, the power to “form” the people or bring it into existence by endowing it with form. When he uttered this sentence, Oshagan was perfectly well aware that he was formulating an appeal of a “political” nature, for, immediately afterwards, he says, in a passage I have not yet cited, “in our preference for literature, the ultimate expression of self-determination, we shall not be disappointed.” This very deliberate use of the term “self-determination” once again proves, if need be, that the formative/fictional finality of literature (conceived here as creative of myths) was destined to compete with political action in the project of forming (that is, both educating and giving form to) a people, even if literature was in no sense whatever supposed to define a concrete politics. But that is not all. When he wrote this sentence, Oshagan was certainly unaware that the same project for a “new mythology” had been explicitly dreamed up a century earlier by the first Romantics. And, above all, he could not have known that twenty years later, Nazi ideologues would conceive political action in the same terms, competing in their turn with politics, but without literature and with very different consequences indeed. On the other hand, Oshagan knew very well that the aesthetic will (the will for art) was a will to lie. It is in this sense that I have copiously cited his formula, pointing out its ambiguity and noting in passing, I believe, that the source of this ambiguity is to be sought in the Nietz­schean will for art, considered as a will for the lie. The enjoyment to lie, Nietzsche said, is enjoyment of “oneself as an artist,” of oneself as a “power” [Macht], enjoyment of the lie as of that which is responsible for my own power. Oshagan could not have been unaware of this. True, Nietzsche was engaged in a “deconstructive” enterprise avant la lettre when he made his statement. He was denouncing (and, at the same time, glorifying) “metaphysics, religion, morals, and science” as “different forms of lie” “destined to overcome the reality of a “world” that was “unique, false, cruel, contradictory, seductive, and without meaning.”[4] Nietzsche’s earliest commentators seized on just one aspect of all this, the lie’s formative power.

Nonetheless, even when it is understood that we are beyond philology here, and even when it is recalled how Nazism later utilized Nietzsche in putting its doctrinal apparatus in place, an appeal for a new mythology (common to both Oshagan and Zarian in 1914) and the belief in a mythological religion to come do not seem scandalous to the modern reader, even though she has been forewarned. After all, the aesthetic principle comprised the last moment in a history that was similar for all the ethnographical nations; and Zarian was not, after all, the only one to believe, in this period and thereafter, in gods who were yet to come and in whose coming he believed he had a part to play, that of prophet and herald. Much worse has been observed since. Where, then, is the worst here? Does it reside in these declarations in the Manifesto, which we have already glossed: “We believe that the Armenian soul is Light, Power, and Life, embodied in the statuesque splendor of the Aryan race to which we belong?” or, again, “On its columns, our Armenian, profoundly Aryan soul will discover lines sometimes unexpected and strange, and sometimes sublime?”[5] Following Maurice Olender[6], we interpreted these declarations as the echo of a general racialization of thought characteristic of nineteenth-century philology, a racialization that the writers around Mehyan inherited and put to work when they proclaimed their aesthetic — that is, formative and fictional — profession of faith. (This is not to say that the invention of the myth that was the work of nineteenth-century philology in its entirety was not, for its part, political; on the contrary, it was wholly and thoroughly political, because it had a direct stake in Orientalism.)

It seems to me that the worst occurs when the open or hidden desire of the founder of a religion (of the artist as a founder of religion, a manipulator of myths, of the artist with collective pretensions) is combined with an openly avowed, unbridled anti-Semitism. This combination/conjunction occurs, unfortunately, in the essays that Zarian published in Mehyan. It also finds expression, be it added (lest one imagine that the racism of the Mehyan period was just a youthful sin) in the overtly racist declarations of doctrine that the same Zarian would later, in 1933, put in the mouths of certain of his fictional characters who are in every sense representative of the thought of their author. Here, as I noted in the introduction, racialist thought spills over into racist ideology, and this is absolutely unbearable. It is all the more unbearable because Zarian utilizes, from the outset, a phraseology with markedly Nietzschean overtones, which means that he enrolls Nietzsche in his own dubious ideology, interpreting him exactly the way all the racist ideologues in Germany interpreted him between 1910 and 1930 (for example, Alfred Baümler, a highly cultivated, prolific Nazi philosopher little known today).[7] All this explains the cast of the present appendix. It propoese to read the texts to which I have just referred a bit more attentively, especially those not yet touched on here, in which Zarian’s ridiculous (or, if one likes, revolting) anti-Semitism finds expression. But it also proposes to attend to what Nietzsche himself said about art.

In our first chapter, we spoke of the definition of art as a reaction to a basic alienation, and saw that it is art which brings the “national” into being. In sum, we defined the Mehyan school’s emergent “national-aestheticism,” a term that I borrow from Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, who uses it in his analysis of National Socialism. National-aes­the­ticism is the nature of a kind of thought and politics that believes in the “fiction of a people as a work of art.”[8] Formally, this fiction should be distinguished from art and the work of art in the narrow sense (literature, opera, theater). In reality, such a distinction is superfluous, and would have made no sense to the Mehyan generation. This generation repeats what the period thought about “great art” (of, thus, the art of the Greeks and, to a lesser extent, that is to say, in any case, a “mimetic extent,” Wagner’s art): that it is the fiction of the people. Through art and the activity of the artist, the people would be “saved” from disaster (from disintegration, from being condemned to silence). Heidegger says this in the same terms in chapter thirteen of his first course on Nietzsche, in connection with Wagner’s total work of art (and, of course, in deconstructive tone): “The art work should be a celebration of the national com­munity: it should be the religion.”[9] This is, after all, one possible formulation of the aesthetic principle. But it makes one uneasy to observe that, when the Mehyan generation feels the need to run through the forms and variants of this principle, it invariably does so in terms that have a Nietz­schean ring. Does Nietzsche bear a share of the blame for this? Is that what Nietzsche thought about art? Was he himself already an adept of national-aestheticism?



We must, then, start by saying a word about the reception of Nietzsche, first, in general, and then among the Armenians. As is well known, Nietzsche’s work was astonishingly well received in Europe from the late nineteenth century on. At the very beginning, Nietzsche was interpreted as a “literary phenomenon,” a sort of prophet, or, again, as Gundolf wrote in 1922, “the judge of our period.” In a second phase, he was read essentially as a life philosopher in quest of new “values” immanent to life. In a third phase, he was assimilated to what was called existentialist philosophy, as, for example, in Jaspers’s two books of 1935 and 1936, Vernunft und Existenz and Nietzsche: Einführung in das Verständnis seines Philosophierens. In none of these three approaches characteristic of the first third of the century,[10] however, did the accent lie on that which is most characteristic of Nietzsche’s thought throughout, namely, the place it assigns the artist. “Art is the single superior counterforce against all will to negation of life, art as… anti-Nihil­ist par excellence” [WM, no. 853].[11] Thus art is the “counter-movement” to nihilism, to what Nietzsche deemed the decadent forms of humanity (WM, no. 794). As for the artist, here is what Nietzsche says about him: “The phenom­enon of the ‘artist’ remains that which allows us to best perceive what it covers; with this as our starting point, observe the basic instincts of power, of nature, and so on! And of religion and morals as well!” (WM, no. 797).[12] Art, as individ­ually determined in the form of the artist, says more about religion, in particular, than religion itself does. At the very beginning of his career, Nietzsche wanted to found an aesthetic. His first book, published in 1872, begins as follows: ” We shall have gained much for the science of aes­thetics when we have succeeded in perceiving… that art derives its con­ti­n­uous development from the duality of the Apolline and Dionysiac.”[13] But this is also how Nietzsche understands his thought toward the end of his conscious life. In 1886, he declares, in the “Self-Criticism” he wrote for the re-edition of his book on tragedy: “So then, with this questionable book, my instinct, an affirmative instinct for life, turned against morality and invented a fundamentally opposite doc­trine and valuation of life, purely artistic and anti-Christian.”[14] This sentence provides a rather good summary of what Nietz­sche wanted to accomplish between 1872 and 1886. It shows, in particular, that the Yes to life is of a “purely artistic” nature.

Nietzsche’s readers in the first third of the century largely ignored the “aesthetic” and “artistic” nature of his doctrine. Its aesthetic nature was likewise ignored in the first essays on Nietzsche that appeared in the Armenian press, which reacted only to its critique of morals and its anti-Christian dimension. In this, they were faithful to the initial reception of Nietzsche in Europe. Moreover, the Armenian readers of Constantinople, students included, read Nietzsche only in French translation, and it would appear that they read, above all, The Genealogy of Morals and Beyond Good and Evil. In a 1906 letter, Daniel Varuzhan wrote: “For my ideas, I prefer Byron and Nietzsche, but, for my art, I prefer Kuchag,”[15] thus opposing, in rather banal fashion, a national form (Kuchag was an “author” under whose name  had been regrouped a corpus of popular poetry that was still a recent discovery early in the twentieth century) to a content that came from various currents of European thought, particularly Nietzsche. It was only in 1909 that extracts from Thus Spoke Zarathustra saw the light in Constantinople’s Armenian literary press. To the best of my knowledge, no further translation of Nietzsche into Wes­tern Armenian appeared until my partial translation of The Birth of Tragedy was published in 1986.[16] For Eastern Armenians, contact with Nietzsche’s work could be much more direct, because these writers studied at German universities, unlike their counterparts in Constantinople, for whom French culture had always been the culture of reference. Nonetheless, only one of Nietzsche’s works was translated into Eastern Armenian before the war. Here too, it was Thus Spoke Zara­thus­tra, which appeared in Bakou in 1914. The Russian Revolution and Sovietization of Armenia called a halt to all attempts in this direction that lasted for several decades[17].

The Armenian writers of Constantinope had read Nietzsche in the years they spent in Europe. This is true, for example, of Indra and Levon Shant. Indra[18] is the author of a work issued in 1905 under the title Inner World, a major work that elaborates a complex poetic prose, with mystic accents, which does not, generally speaking, lead its reader to look for echoes of Nietzschean thought. Nevertheless, in 1986, when it became necessary for me to translate The Birth of Tragedy, it was to Indra that I most often turned in search of neologisms that could facilitate the task of rendering Nietzsche’s German in Armenian. Let me give three examples: for the terms Ureins and Einswerden, which designate, in Nietzsche, originary unity and the act of becoming one with it, I borrowed words coined by Indra to express phenomena of the same order (hanreut’iun, hanreanal, hamaynanal). Similiarly, neologisms invented by Indra (khorhrtapatker, irapatker) allowed me to translate what Nietzsche calls Gleichnis, the analogic image in which the unrepresentable, that which belongs to the Dionysian world, inscribes itself. Finally, it was yet another neologism by Indra (hmayap’okhut’iun) which helped me translate what Nietzsche calls Verzauber­ung, the ecstatic transport of Dionysius’ adepts. The fact that we can translate Nietzsche thanks to Indra does not, however, mean that Indra himself translated Nietzsche. Indra is not a writer who belongs to the Nietzschean sphere as read, in any case, through the lens of the aesthetic principle. We find in him none of the characteristic themes that would soon make their entry into Armenian literature: the turn back to Greece, “paganism,” or historical criticism of Christianity. Indra, who was an absolutely original writer, simply put in writing, in Armenian, a pantheistic experience he had to invent a language to express. Certain facets of Nietzschean theory helped him do so.- Levon Shant’s relationship to Nietzsche was quite different.[19] The only great Armenian playwright of the twentieth century, Shant had received his higher education in Germany. He had read Nietzsche in German, given a great deal of thought to his work, and discussed him in his letters. His dramatic works are deeply marked by his familiarity with the German philosopher. Shant’s first historical play, The Ancient Gods (1909), stages a kind of confrontation between paganism and Christianity; the “ancient gods” evoked in the title are the pagan gods, who seem to return to the Middle Ages in a period of Christian fervor by way of an unleashing of the human passions. This confrontation was plainly of Nietzsche­an inspiration. The most interesting feature of this author’s work is not, however, the idea of a “return” to the pagan gods. It is, rather, the fact that his work presents itself, from one end to the other, as the theater of the “will to power,” a long meditation on the different types of power that is marked by a recurrent question: is the will to vanquish and overcome any and all propensity to the exercise of power itself a question of force and power? In the aporetic form in which I cast it, this question is a typically a Nietzschean one.

Here, then, we have two instances of the reception of Nietzsche by writers who did not belong to the Mehyan circle. Let us give a third example, Edouard Frenghian. Frenghian was a politically committed Eastern Armenian who in 1910 published a short book on Nietzsche, the only study of the philosopher in Armenian.[20] The book did not have much influence. Frenghian had studied philosophy in Germany with Alois Riehl (1844-1924) and refers several times to the book written by his professor, Friedrich Nietzsche, der Künstler und Denker, the first edition of which saw the light in 1897. According to Frenghian, “Nietz­sche is the philosopher of life,”[21] defends “a biological point of view,”[22] and “his conception of life is colored by Darwinian doctrine. The basic element in Nietz­sche is the principle of ‘the struggle for existence’ and that of ‘natural selection.’ Life belongs to the strong, destined to triumph in this struggle for existence. At the same time, there exists a natural aristocracy.”[23] I take it for granted that these ridiculous affirmations require no comment. Frenghian also tells us that “Nietz­sche raises the question of the genius, the individual genius…. The theory of the superman and that of the preparation of a superhuman race thus comes straight from his aristocratic radicalism, that is, from the principle of natural selection he inherited from Darwin.”[24] Frenghian goes so far as to cite a remark of Elizabeth Förster-Nietzsche’s about “creating, selecting a whole race of supermen!”[25]

Frenghian also maintains that there exists a “Darwinism of the race.” Constant Zarian, as we shall see, connects this “Darwinism of the race” or “aristocratic Darwinism” with the project of creating “new myths.” The problem is that these two readings of Nietzsche are not entirely independent of one another. In partic­ular, the Nazis’ reception of the philosopher, even as it stood in the tradition of the vulgar reception and propagated it in the most shameful fashion, was also ideologically informed and guided by the “aesthetic principle,” which means, here, the idea of the “formative (fictional) power of myth.” When, in 1914, Osh­agan wrote his sentence about the urgent need for a universal fiction, he went back to the idea of the artist as liar and creator of fictions, as elaborated by Nietzsche in fragment 853 of The Will to Power. He also – already – went back to the idea of the formative or educational power of art by way of the production of a new kind of myth. To be sure, he did not go any further down this path. There is, nonetheless, an obvious consonance between his desire to produce a universal fiction to the end of collectively forming the nation and that which we have learned from other sources about the myth as power and its implementation:

“myth is in no way ‘mythological’. It is a ‘power’, the power that is in the gathering together of the fundamental forces and orientations of an individual or a people . . . Rosenberg interprets this power as that of the dream, as the projection of an image with which one identifies . . . []Rosenberg is thinking] of the essence of the Germanic soul . . . in so far as it, like the Greek soul which was itself always Aryan, dreams the political . . . as Formwillen, the desire to form [vouloir-former] and the desire for form [vouloir de la forme] or Gestaltung: as work.[26]

These remarks of Lacoue-Labarthe’s encapsulate the central thrust of Rosenberg’s 1927 book, The Myth of the Twentieth Century.[27] Rosenberg, too, evokes the power of fic­tion­al­ization, the “we” considered as a product of fiction, in other words, of an artistic-aesthetic activity. This is not at a far remove from Oshagan’s and Zarian’s call for a new mythology, their “universal fiction,” their artist’s metaphysics, their dream of restoring a collective power that has obviously been lost, their “Aryan soul,” and their desire-to-form (the race, the nation) as a work of art – in other words, all the themes of the “aesthetic principle” that we have examined at length. The point-for-point similarity between the terms is, at the very least, food for thought.



Constant Zarian was born in the Caucasus in 1885. After completing his secondary and higher education in France and Belgium, he moved to Constantinople in 1912. It was Zarian who decided to found the review Mehyan: he wanted to infect the Armenians with the spirit of the avant-garde movements of the day, especially Futurism. Theater was Zarian’s grand passion at the time. We shall see later, when we analyze a few passages from essays he published in the review, that his project for the theater came straight from his reading of Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy. Zarian also wrote two novels. One of them, Pancoopë yev mamut’i voskornerë [The pan-coop and the bones of the mammoth], which was published in 1933 but never finished, is wholly autobiographical; it tells the story of the two years its author spent in Soviet Armenia between 1922 and 1924.[28] The other, published in 1943, is entitled Navë leran vray [The ship on the mountain]; it is a novel well known to the broad reading public.[29] It relates, in the epic mode, the birth of a country. Zarian’s major works, however, are the ones he calls his “trav­elogues”; here the author’s peregrinations are transformed into a kind of grand cosmic voyage through countries and civilizations. The first of these narratives, Ants’ordë yev ir chamban [The traveler and his road], was published in serial form in the Boston monthly Hayrenik beginning in 1926.[30] Zarian had, from the very first, been an avid reader of Nietzsche. There are numerous, explicit references to Nietzsche’s work in his texts, from his 1914 reflections on theater to the quite dogmatic expositions of his doctrine that we find in his novels, especially the 1933 Pan-Coop. Indeed, throughout his work, Zarian falls back on Nietz­schean categories to explain his vision of himself as a poet and prose writer. Here Nietzsche provides him with, all at once, a vision of the modern world, a vision of contemporary history, and a vocabulary in which to present both. Yet the situation is in fact still more complicated, since Zarian also read Spengler in the 1920s. We find the first traces of this encounter in The Traveler and his Road. Putatively Nietzschean categories appear here at times in unadulterated form, but, more often, in the form they take in the theory of cultures and civilizations elaborated by Spengler.

Let us recall that Zarian always boasted that he had written the Manifesto published in Mehyan in his own hand, in French, giving it to his friends to translate. In a late interview, he says: “I went from Venice to Constantinople, where I began to write in Armenian. The best writers of my generation were in Constantinople. I founded Mehyan with Varuzhan, K. Parseghian, H. Kufejian, and Aharon. I was the one who wrote, in French, most of the Manifesto. Varuzhan finished it and translated it into Armenian. It was a marvelous period, a generation of artists, a splendid literary environment. Unfortunately, it came to a swift end.”[31] In fact, Zarian and Varuzhan quickly fell out, as is indicated by the fact that Varuzhan left the group very early, in February 1914, and that his name does not appear in the review thereafter. Hagop Oshagan, in his monograph on Varuzhan, says that “his break with the group was not precipitated by antagonistic aesthetic positions, but by an unproductive sensitivity [on Varuzhan’s part] and Zarian’s rather bloated pretensions, which Kegham Parseghian and I tolerated for the simple reason that they made the review lively and innovative. We therefore accepted the posture of a high priest that Zarian struck, however ridic­ulous it was.”[32] This conflict is a chapter in literary history, but it also interests us because Zarian turned out texts in which he made open fun of Varuzhan. The first of them, entitled “Paganism?” appeared in the fourth issue of Mehyan. “Paganism?” takes the form of a dialogue between two characters whom Zarian calls the “Pagan” and the “Futurist.” “The first time I saw the title of your review, Mehyan,” Zarian has the Pagan, who is obviously Varuzhan, say, “I naturally assumed that you would be on our side and would try to recreate the spirit of the old religions of our ancestors.” Thus Zarian pretends that Varuzhan was animated by a rather backward-looking, restorationist spirit, to which he opposes the idea of an art of the present and an art to come, which deserves, in his view, to be called “Futurist” art. Indeed, he says so explicitly as early as February 1914, in an essay entitled “The Jesus of the Armenians.” Those who foolishly tried to “return to the ‘old gods’ would, according to Zarian, come away from the attempt empty-handed, for these old gods are truly old – they are dead. The very idea of a ‘return’ is a mark of intellectual laziness.”[33] It so happens that Zarian admired Marinetti and wished to recreate in the Armenian world the collective movement spawned by his various manifestos. This did not, however, make Zarian a Futurist. The poetry he produced in later years never went beyond the Symbolist lyricism that he had inherited during his student years in Brussels; traces of it first make themselves felt in texts he wrote in French for Belgian literary reviews. In 1910, during his first stay in Constantinople, he had already published a manifesto, “The Crazy Wills,” written in French and signed by both Zarian and his friend Hrand Nazarian. It is the only known manifestation of Futurism in his writings.[34] More characteristically, it is in the “Nietz­schean style” that in his 1914 essays and articles Zarian expresses his own version of the aesthetic prin­ciple and his metaphysics of the artist.

Twelve years later, in the 1926 The Traveler and his Road, long after the death of Varuzhan, Zarian felt the need to revive his polemic against the Dionysian or paganism. I shall not go into the context. Zarian had to define poetry and the essence of the poet. “A poet,” he writes, “is a man who dances on a tightrope. A tight-rope artist.”[35] But he is not satisfied with saying only that. He advances the idea that the poet is essentially a tight-rope artist in opposition to Varuzhan, the representative of poetic paganism, who is brought on scene here in the form of a billy goat. “And while, up in the air, he recalls the names of his saints and… offers a sacrifice to the universe in his own special way, down below, someone else, wearing the skin of a wild animal and a mask with a goat’s beard, throws fear into the evil spirits, the unbelievers, and all who jealously give him the evil eye, with the gestures of a creature come from hell.”[36] Of course, the goat described in this manner is Dionysus. The passage is unbeliev­ably invidious. Zarian needs this opposition in order to define himself. Astonishingly, his fierce, fanatic hostility to Varuzhan is cast in Nietzscheean terms: he borrows the image and character traits of the tight-rope artist from Nietzsche’s Zarathustra. Tight-rope artist vs. billy goat! In Zarathustra, the tight-rope artist is the man who walks down the taut cord that leads to the “race of supermen.”[37] He is the man who negotiates the dangerous “passage” (antsk‘ in Armenian). Zarian describes his own destiny as a passage, a walk on the edge of the abyss. The Traveler (antsord), as emblematic figure, is this tight-rope artist, this “passer.”

Let us now turn back to the year 1914. Zarian published a series of essays in Mehyan under the general title “For Art.” The titles of these essays are, in the order of their publication, “Creation, Madness, Heroism,” “The Jesus of the Armenians,” “The Theater,” and “Paganism?” Zarian’s constant preoccupation in these first years of his career was the theater. In his Mehyan essay on the theater, he announces a “unanimist” theater, whose model he finds in Greek tragedy. By “unanimist,”[38] a term he takes from Jules Romains, he means a totalizing theater, conceived as capable of uniting the whole people together, a synthesis of all the arts with universal aspirations. He says as much later, in 1922, in Pardzravank, a review that, like Mehyan, was published in Istanbul for a few months as, to some extent, the continuation of its predecessor. Zarian there describes the theater as “the synthesis of all the arts,” adding that it is the “unanimist action that takes place deep in the soul and exhibits the complexity of a total vision”; it presents itself as an “idealized mode of life, woven with the symbolic motifs of the possible and the real.”[39] The Greeks’ tragic theater, he goes on, is a model of such unanimist action, since, “derived from religion and life, it always maintained its religious character.” Let us acknowledge that this need for a unanimist theater stemmed from the will to struggle against the real or imagined threat of fragmentation said to be characteristic of our age. Zarian thus repeats, in his own fashion, the theme of wholeness and fragmentation which we have already seen in Varuzhan and Oshagan, and which can also be seen in passages in Nietzsche on Wagner. What sets him apart from the others is the fact that, while he, too, wanted to see a renaissance of Greek theater, this renaissance coincided in some sort, for him, with the advent of a new religion. He conflated the two, as Stefan George and his disciples did in the same period, in their interpretation of both Nietzsche the man and his œuvre.

Thus Zarian, in his 1914 essay on the theater, envisions the poet marching toward “the god,” to whom will be proffered “a new song before the new altar”; and he imagines the possibility that “one day new choirs may surround him.” In producing a formulation and a project of this kind, Zarian plainly has Nietzsche­an descriptions of Menadic choirs, Dionysius’ ecstatic devotees, and their hymns in mind. He also repeats a thesis popularized by Nietzsche, which has it that the theater was born of the odes to Dionysius. He even believes that Dionysius’ altar stood in the center of the theater; for, he says, “the gods dwelled in it.” Thus, borrowing from Nietzsche the ideal of a modern revival or repetition of Greek tragedy, he wishes to re-stage this religious origin of the theater among his own people, in an uncertain future. Indeed, this is the task he sets himself: “If we observe the present period of experimentation attentively, we can happily confirm that the new Temple will be erected in the not too distant future and that new in­stances of tragic action will relight the noble flame of art in people’s souls. Out of the lyric poetry that the Symbolist school brought to its zenith, there will inevitably emerge the quintessential motif of cosmic tragedy, drama-creating song.”[40] Zarian is very plainly alluding to the Dionysian choir and the Greek ode, which gave birth to “tragedy” and theater on a historical reading that was not Nietzsche’s alone, but whose import Zarian grasped thanks to Nietzsche. Zarian of course never realized this project of creating “dithyrambic song.”[41] What is interesting, however, is his ambition to repeat and rediscover the origin: once again, art at the origin of religion!

How can art be at the origin of religion? This is possible because, in Varu­zhan’s formulation, the aesthetic principle presides over the erection of the gods; in Zarian’s formulation, because the erected god is a theatrical god. The religious bond, the one that founds the human community and, at the origin, brings man into existence, is already a theatrical bond. This thesis is in conformity with the aesthetic principle, which each member of this “school” repeats in his own fashion. It is, nonetheless, a surprising thesis. It explains, in any event, Zarian’s determination to create a theater of the origin, a theater before the theater. This generation of writers was obsessed by religious alienation, that is, by a form of alienation which it conceived of as a catastrophic dissolution of the original bond, which could obviously only have been religious. The Armenian word for religion is kron. Alishan, in his 1895 book, The Armenians’ Ancient Faith or Pagan Religion, suggests that the word is etymologically linked to krel, which means “carry,” “support.” The Latin word “religio” no doubt refers to an original bond. As for the Armenian word kron, it refers to an original “support.”[42] Varuzhan conceived of this support as a stele. Zarian conceives of it as a stage! That is why the erected god is a “theatrical god.” But who is this theatrical god? Is it Dionysius, as everything would seem to indicate? Dionysius, the masked god, the god of the theater?

Before answering, we must recall, after all, that this generation of writers uses Nietzsche for its own purposes, in order to rethink the situation in which it finds itself: in order to rethink the original bond or support by way of the dissolution of the bond or the collapse of the support. This dissolution and collapse comprise its starting point, its primary experience; aestheticization is what they oppose to it. There was not enough art, according to these writers. One might imagine that their experience was not different from that of the Greeks, for whom Dionysius, the masked god, was also the dismembered god, that is to say, the divine figure who served as their representation of disintegration.

Who is this theatrical god? By a strange reversal, Zarian calls him “Jesus.” In his essay on the theater, he describes the birth of the Church by establishing a parallel with the birth of Greek theater. It is in this essay that he writes: “There, Jesus was the leading performer, the most profound of the tragic masks, surrounded by his choirs.”[43] Zarian here clearly identifies Jesus with Dionysius, his tragic mask, and his choirs. He carries this identification so far as to say: “[The Church] had recourse to virtually the same means that Greek tragedy had utilized.”[44] The birth of a religion – the Christian religion in this case – is here described in the same terms as the birth of the theater. We plainly have to do with a theatrical god, the leading, and the greatest, character in his own tragedy. What is more, this god bestrides a stage that he himself has erected. He finds himself on this stage from the outset. He is the one to have created the scene at the same time as he created his role, in other words, himself. In his essay of February 1914, entitled “The Jesus of the Armenians,” Zarian therefore writes: “Jesus is the supreme example of the genuine creator who is also a self-creator.”[45] At the same time, this purely theatrical god is, in Zarian’s description of him, fitted out with all the attributes of the will to power: “To master oneself and gain control of all the virtues and mysteries that are a part of one’s being is to become a universal force, a god.”[46] There is nothing surprising about this, because this theatrical god, this figure of all figures, is the artist par excellence, the prototype of the artist: “He can be understood only through aesthetic empathy, the penetration of the artist.”[47] The description of the theatrical god closes with a touch that makes this pure incarnation of the will to power the incarnation of art as well: “Jesus is Art.” A prototype of the artist and an incarnation of art, he is the figure par excellence, the figure that will seal the fate of a people, his own, in its future life, intellectual as well as spiritual. This theatrical figure is the place of origin, the “support” and “bearer” of the origin. The bearer  of the origin, the essence of religion, is by nature artistic and wholly theatrical. The idea that art is the founding principle of religion can hardly be pushed further than this, at least in the form in which it was revived by Nietzsche. The primordial figure is his own support, but is also supposed to support the collectivity that makes him its god. Thus we find all the determinations of the aesthetic principle united in a very strange constellation. Zarian is obviously thinking in opposition to Varuzhan here, against the supposedly Dionysian Varuzhan, and he mobilizes against him, as a last recourse, purely Nietzschean resources. Of course, in this incarnation of art – in fact, of great art – there lurks a fantasy of self-creation. What is striking is the fact that this rigorous phantasmagoria of a self-created figure finds expression in the theatrical form of the god who erects himself upon a stage that he has himself erected, a god who imitates no-one but himself so that everyone, imitating him (that is, imitating his imitation), can become what he is. Thus Zarian himself, in his own fashion, utters the “truth” of autoscopic mimicry (of mimesis).

In all of this, we hear the last echo of the philological invention of the previous century, mythology, taken so seriously by the writers of the Mehyan group that they had even come to dream aloud about mytho-poetic power, that is to say, the need to restore, by means of art, the power that presided over the birth of myth and mythological religion. As far as this point is concerned, Varuzhan, notwithstanding the crucial assumption of mourning in his work and Zarian’s hatred of him, does not substantially differ from Zarian. His writings show that he could even, at times, abandon all restraint, cease to be the poet of mourning, and become, quite simply, the ideologue of power, the power of myth, the power of art, and therefore, by an ineluctable necessity, of political power as well[48]. What perhaps characterizes Zarian and differentiates him from both Varuzhan and Oshagan is the fact that he moves entirely within the dimension of power and knows nothing at all about mourning (whether what is involved is the mourning “of philology” is of little importance here). It is this which drives him to the worst extreme, an extreme that I have so far been at pains to keep in the dark. Yet we are obliged to quote him, even if I do so with a certain reticence. We are obliged to cite the essay of February 1914. We are obliged to evoke the racism that is on a continuum (or is it a break?) with the racialized thought that comes straight from nineteenth-cen­tury philology. Here is the passage in question:

Jesus is the supreme example of the genuine creator who is also a self-creator.

He is the man of terrible battle, a battle he fought with himself.

With a strange, magnificent effort, he annihilated, overcame, put to death that which constituted the weakness of his blood, soul, and body: SEMITISM.

He was the first to grasp, thanks to a supreme revelation, the danger represented by the Semitic poison that was choking his veins. It was exhausting his muscles, diminishing his mental capabilities, closing in on his heart, and filling his soul with apathy. The Aryan ideal was the first heavenly ray to light up his person and open up before him the golden, emerald-spangled path which, as he was fully aware, led to Golgotha.

To master oneself and gain control of all the virtues and mysteries that are a part of one’s being is to become a universal force, a god.

From the day he freed himself from the depravities of his race, this giant of a man became a fighter for an ideal.

The Semite never has an ideal. He has practical aspirations, but never has a dream. The Semite does not know infinity (Philo of Alexandria); he waits for a God, but does not seek him out.

The Semitic race is an inferior race. It is effeminate and materialistic (Otto Weininger).

The Semite does not soar. His is an uncreative race lacking genius, fearful of mystery and vision. The Semite knows how to imitate and repeat and grasps things easily, but never feels the music of the cosmos; he is a satirist with a lame soul.

Jesus is the anti-Jew.

This is, manifestly, a profession of faith in Aryanism. But is it that and that alone? Do we have, here, a whole poetic, artistic, religious, and political project, the seduction of mythological religion, a whole program for a modern rehearsal of ancient tragedy in the process of being born, the will to return to the origin of religion in art, a revival of Nietzsche’s formulas about power, affirmation, and the “artistic” nature of man, with “Semitism” acting simply as a foil and “the Aryan ideal” as an aspiration? We can see, at any rate, that Zarian’s Jesus is not very far removed from the “Aryan Jesus” promoted by Stuart Chamberlain. Unsurprisingly, Chamberlain, the proto-Nazi who adored Wagner, hated Nietzsche from the bottom of his heart.[49] But mytho-poetic power was obviously an Aryan “power,” if it is true that its absolute contrary is the “impotence” of the Semite, his incapacity to create, inability to soar, wickedness, ignorance of the divine, inferiority, effeminacy, and materialism. Jesus is the proto-artist, the divine man who was able to discover within himself the power of the mytho-poet­ic, the very power of art (that is the defining characteristic of art for this generation: the will-to-form as œuvre, nationalization as aestheticization). It is because Jesus is the proto-artist that he is “the anti-Jew” par excellence. Need we comment further? One more question: is there anything whatsoever that can be called Nietzschean in all this?



I have so far chosen to restrict myself to the year 1914 and texts published in Mehyan, in order to isolate the common core out of which the œuvres of the writers of this group developed. Now I need to add a section, the last, whose aim is briefly to indicate how the twisted evocation of Nietzsche, linked to the Aryanization of his thought, evolved in Zarian’s later work.

In his unfinished novel of 1931-1933, The Pan-Coop and the Bones of the Mammoth, Zarian revisits the first years of Soviet Armenian history, taking his personal experience as a guide (let us recall that he lived in Armenia between 1922 and 1924 as a guest professor of European literature). The novel is basically structured around two characters: an orphan who gradually rises through the ranks of the Communist Party, and Zarian himself, an Armenian intellectual come from nowhere, known as Iberian in the novel. This Iberian expresses his views about the future of the Armenians and Armenia in Nietzschean accents. A long quotation will suffice to show how:[50]

In the present case, it means that we must re-value all our values, be anew [vera-linel], exist anew [nora-goyanal], put ourselves on new foundations [verahastatvel]. You’re going to ask me how. Let me tell you right away. To begin with, to the myth of a God-become-man, “bearing the torments of the cross and suffering with love,” we must oppose the man-God, radiating light and strength, the pinnacle of worldly achievement. To an abstract, dualistic conception of the universe, we must oppose a natural, firmly grounded unity, self-contained and self-suffi­cient, the will to power [tirapetakan kamk’ë].[51] To the race of the “servants and children of God,” we must oppose that of the emancipated and the emancipators, who see in God the highest power that they themselves are capable of creating, to which they may submit, if they wish, or against which they may fight, heads held high, manfully, without womanish emotion, without quailing, without prayer – because God’s creators participate in his divine nature and can embrace the universe with his arms of fire, recognizing in it a musical expression of their own selves. To feelings of dependence and need, these new men will oppose a feeling of competence and self-sufficiency. To the idea of equality, that of difference, distance, hierarchy [kargapetut’iun], nobility. To the idea of socialism, that of an individualism that has attained the highest level of spiritual development. To the demand for love, happiness, peace, and consolation, they will oppose heroic scorn, the iron law of the immaculately pure will and absolute action. And, against providential conceptions of the world, they will pit their tragic conception of it, for which man is all alone in the chaos of the forces of nature and the elements and becomes his own savior, bending his own heart and brain to his will. Ah, to reject, to refuse to accept that economistic, Pan-Coopical creature, that party ant who is not the master of his fate, who has fallen from his throne into the dust and trots after the cart of history and society. To reject all that and assume all one’s responsibilities instead, barring the way to despair and weakness, bolstering and arming the soul. Yesterday they were saying “brother” and “Father,” today they say “citizen” and “comrade.” Whose brother, whose comrade? The new man, the one we want, must have neither hope nor expectations. The beginning and the end will be condensed within him; planet, rock, and mountain-peak will all be contained within him, endowed with his strengths and weaknesses. Everyone manning his post in the battle; everyone a peculiar value, a quality, a life sui generis, a pitiless aloneness. A power that refuses to enter into communication with others or achieve self-understanding, refuses to become a “comrade” or “brother,” refuses to feel equal. And this not as a result of the arrogance of common creatures, but out of respect for other individuals. Powerful individuals are the pioneers of absolute justice and pitiless truth, and their relations to others can unfold only on clear grounds, where there is neither crookedness of mind or heart,[52] nor cunning, nor pursuit of petty personal interests – but, rather, endless spiritual ascent, rank, cosmos, hierarchy, and gigantic, sun-like spiritual beings: a race of far-seeing Masters, self-fashioned creatures who do not take from others, but, rather, give the light and meaning of their strength. What we want, and want because we know it is possible, is the pre-Christian man who reached, with the priest-kings, the level of enduring existence. That world in which nature was not yet nature, nor spirit spirit, in which there were neither objects nor forms, but only forces. In which life was, in every one of its moments, a heroic necessity, replete with works, symbols, commands, magical and ceremonial gestures.

Once again, the vocabulary is Nietzschean; but, once again, I am not certain that the “thought,” the profound motivation behind this speech (which Iberi­an delivers to a sect made up of his followers) is equally Nietzschean. As I have already noted, however, the will to a formative power by way of the production of a new myth is an integral part of the “aesthetic principle”; it cannot even be called a perverted part of it. We want to make of our own nation “a race of masters”; we want to form “individuals” of a new type within a “hierarchized” society, individuals full of “heroism,” of “magical and ceremonial gestures.” Is this not, again, the expression of an “Aryanizing” project? For good measure, Zarian interprets the common, familiar theory of the ethnogenesis of the Armenians by way of a claim that the conquerors of the sixth century B.C. (Armens come from Greece and Thrace at the beginning of the first millenium before our era, on this theory) “constituted the noble warrior class and the royal family, because they were not only brave, god-like people, but also masters of the supreme religious wisdom and spiritual maturity that compels the respect of the peoples and their implicit obedience. The Armens rebuilt the ruined country; they put the Hatians to work and ruled over them…. To call the Armens back to life among us – that is our goal.”[53] This pseudo-historical fantasy backed up by a racist utopia is a period product. It is quite clear that it has nothing Nietzschean about it, despite the lexical similarities. Yet this is how Europe understood Nietzsche at the time, deeming Nietzschean even the rejection of “that economistic, Pan-Coopical creature, that ant with his party card who is not the master of his fate.” Such, if Zarian is to be believed, are the typical features of the type of people created by the communist world. Of course, the paradox of a fantasy of this sort resides in the fact that the Armenians were a melange from their inception. They came into being in the form of a mixture between “god-like” Armens and the subjugated, unproductive “Hattian” tribes, a race of “slaves,” needless to say. “Unhappily,” the preponderance of the Hattians over the centuries ultimately led to the imposition of the name “Hay” on the country and its inhabitants. In other words, the “slave mentality” that triumphed elsewhere in the world triumphed here, too. Hence Zarian dreams of a world in which “[the Armenian] can rebuild his country in conformity with the idea of it that he has in his original soul, free of all mixture.” Where is the essence of this pure soul free of all mixture to be found, if the fact is that the mixture was there from the start? The will to power is here a will to purification or, more precisely, self-purification. In this case, the “foreign,” “impure” element of this soul “free of all mixture” is “within us”; it cannot be ascribed to some place outside. We know only too well where these dreams of metaphysical purification repeatedly led in the last century.

How will this self-purification come about? Naturally, by way of a “sacrifice”! In a long passage,[54] Iberian explains to his dumbfounded listeners the essence of the pagan rite that consist of sacrificing animals, a rite that, among the Armenians, continues to exist alongside Christian beliefs. “Supreme wisdom lies not in separating spirit from matter, but, on the contrary, in locating spirit in matter and the world, as in its natural home.” Thus it was through the sacrifice of animals that the Armenians expressed their “understanding of life,” since “the animals… do not stand apart from this people’s individuality, but live with it, in one and the same body and soul…. [The Armenian people’s] supreme wish is that its heart should beat in unison with theirs; it wants to be united with the flow of their blood, the sensations of their flesh, with their brains, lungs, and semen, in which it experiences the limits of the law and its flight toward the infinite. That is why the powerful, terrible blow of the sacrificial knife is an expression of a boundless love eonian enough to encompass the universe, because, in the final analysis, the sacrificial victim is the one who offers the sacrifice.”[55] The whole of this passage aims to elaborate a non-Christian vision of the world, in which sacrifice would be the central expression of unity or unification with the world. Zarian, however, goes on to consider a second aspect of the matter, in direct relation with this “theory of sacrifice” of a metaphysical cast. The second aspect is altogether unexpected: “Armenian blood has flowed copiously on Armenian soil, the sacrifice[56] has been offered up time and again, and now the time has come when, at the price of a supreme effort and unremitting, exhausting labor, the miracle of radiance and color has to flower from that blood, forge the new race, and revive the new individual.”[57] To be sure, it is a question, this time, of the blood of “the one who offers the sacrifice” as the “sacrificial victim,” but it is nevertheless clear that what is realized by means of this blood is self-puri­fi­cation; it is self-purification which will give rise to the new race. Self-purifica­tion is thus the result of a self-sacrifice. The logic of this passage may be difficult to follow, in part because of the usual paradox informing all thinking about the sacrifice, but also because Zarian suddenly introduces a new theme, that of the blood the Armenians have shed on their own soil. All appearances are that this blood has to be understood as sacrificial blood (which is to say, as well, as the product of a metaphorical process), so that it can be assimilated to the logic of the “one who sacrifices as sacrificial victim.” If Zarian is talking about the blood shed during the Catastrophe (and to all appearances, he is, even if his intention is concealed or unconscious), may I confess, in my turn, that I find this type of reasoning, in a word, simply shameful? Even if it is true that every sacrifice is ultimately self-sacrifice (and that proposition, too, should be treated with caution) and therefore self-purification, the Catastrophe (here, I am speaking in my own name) is precisely the unique human event with respect to which the discourse of Sacrifice exhausts its resources and touches its limits. It must be added that the Catastrophe remains strangely absent from Zarian’s œuvre.[58] It is true that, in The Genealogy of Morals, Nietzsche envisages self-sacrifice as self-purification when he writes that “the extent of an ‘advance’ is even measured acording to the scale of the sacrifice required; the mass of humanity sacrificed to the flourishing of a single stronger species of men – now that would be progress,”[59] but he did so, for his part, in the middle of a passage on historiographical method, and, there again, the tone is plainly deconstructive.

What is perhaps more interesting (and this will be the last point we consider here) is the use to which Zarian puts the Nietzschean category of “nihilism.” He does so in the framework of an attempt to produce a vision of the historical world (with features borrowed from Spengler’s Decline of the West) with­in which it can seem possible that the future of his people will bring with it transcendence of the “economistic, Pan-Coopical creature,” a resurgence of the religious, that is, of the powers of art, and, finally, an explanation for the misery of the present, the hold communism has on the country. At the same time, however, Zarian’s effort has to be understood as a desperate attempt to open up a space in which the writer, the “traveler” through spiritual worlds, and the poet in exile (Zarian never ceased to regard himself as such) can find his place, reveal his “origin” and destiny, and justify his existence as artist. To account for “Bolshevism,” the height of decadence and the failure of the European tradition, in the form of a historical necessity – which is what Zarian does – is to display a typically nihilist attitude:

The Bolsheviks are, unbeknown to themselves, the last representatives of Christian ideology. They represent the race of those rebellious slaves who destroyed the temples of Pythagoras in Greece, ridiculed the sublime knowledge of the sect of Orpheus, and put Christianity in its place…. They did not know that, impelled by a fatal destiny, they were clearing a path for the coming of the new man. To that extent, yes, the work carried out by the Bolsheviks was necessary.

To attain the deepest depths of failure.[60]

The turning point will come later, after this two-thousand year-long parenthesis, and as a consequence of it. The task of the individual – but perhaps one should rather say “of the poet” – is to be present at this turning-point, realize it in himself, and announce it to the world at large. The historical reflection on nihilism culminates in a reflection on the essence of poetry and art in general as exiled realities. The poet himself is in this sense an exile. This exile, which must henceforth be understood as a universal phenomenon, a parenthesis in the history of the world, is an ordeal in “non-being.” Nevertheless, this ordeal of exile is itself necessary, since this ordeal alone can ensure that a renewal of “being” will become possible one day. This transcendence of nihilism is itself quite obviously bound up with the theme of sacrifice:

At the outer limit, where non-existence ends and birth has yet to begin, in the moment that lies between being and non-being, is a place of fear, of dread…. Fear and terror are absent from our minds to the extent that we are travelers born to cross borders and break through to new horizons…. In the life of peoples, just as in that of individuals, there are times [shrjan] when it is imperative to say ‘no’ to everything in the name of life. To alter, to overthrow [shrjel] the grave’s dominion over us. To cut away a part of our inner being as if it were a sacrificial lamb so as to save the rest, where the myth still lives. Sometimes history forces a people to migrate from one part of the planet to another, to follow the sun, to reduplicate its movement, to complete a revolution [shrjel]. It seems to that there are also moments when life’s supreme exigency is to carry out that same migration within ourselves, following our inner sun in order to achieve our own secret revolution [shrjan]. For certain peoples, that moment has come, and they are now awaiting the true revolutionaries, those prepared and able to traverse the place of fear and pass from non-being to being.[61]

The connections forged here between an extreme form of exile, an exile on the edge of the world amid a total forgetting of “being”; the need to cross the no-man’s-land of non-being; and the firm resolution to endure the experience of forgetting as a poet rooted in the migratory, “solar” destiny of his people: this is, ultimately, what rescues Zarian to some extent, in my view, from his intolerable declarations and pompous prophecies. Yet, here too, the part to be saved at the price of a sacrificial act is the part in which “the myth still lives,” that is, the Aryan (or artistic) part of ourselves!


In conclusion, it will have been understood that my aim, apart from denunciation of the kind of Aryanism characteristic of Zaryan, was to grasp the moment in which the aesthetic principle yields to an unembellished racism. Where does this moment lie? Should we look for it in “aristocratic Darwinism”? Can we discern it in the fiction of the people as a work of art, which is the very definition of “national-aestheticism”? Is it present from the outset, in the announcement and expectation of a new mythology? Or even earlier, in the philological definition of religion as mythological? These questions are plainly appropriate in the case of the Mehyan group, Zarian’s participation in which was anything but an aberration. But they are also appropriate to the whole of the European adventure, the one that led from the discovery of mythology to National Socialism. No attempt to determine Nietzsche’s place in this European trajectory can sidestep them. What are we to make of the affirmation of art? Is it to be confined to playing a denunciatory, deconstructive role? Or should it be placed back within the circuit of power, which is to be affirmed in its turn? The distinction between art as mourning and art as founding fiction is of no help here. The founding fiction and, with it, the whole system of the aesthetic principle are sustained by mourning. Even Varuzhan in this respect gave in to the pontification of the would-be founder of a religion. He did so despite the fact that he was the only member of his generation to try to come to terms (in his poetic work) with termination and disaster as such, that is, with the end of religion that is inscribed in the philological invention of religion. This is something Zarian never did or dreamed of doing. But then we need to make another distinction, not, this time, between mourning and the founding fiction, but between mourning and itself: we need to trace a line of demarcation inside mourning itself. We have to learn to free catastrophic mourning, the mourning of mourning, from all the confusions to which it complacently lends itself. We have to learn to save mourning, in this way, from itself. Similarly, despite the immense efforts to salvage Nietzsche to which we have been witness for more than half a century now, I am convinced that the distinction we need cuts through his œuvre itself: the distinction that will allow us to interpret art, at one and the same time, as the affirmative power of denunciation (especially of the aesthetic principle itself) and as the negative power of the lie, open to every imaginable kind of manipulation.



[1] This is (with a different title) the English translation of the Appendix published in Le Deuil de la philologie, second volume of my series (written in French) on 20th century Armenian literature (MetisPresse, Geneva, 1987). The French title of the entire series is: Entre l’art et le témoignage. Littératures arméniennes au XXe siècle. I kept the text of this Appendix mostly unchanged, along with the cross-references to the former chapters in the book. These pages have been translated from the original French by G.M.Goshgarian. But since I added a number of explanatory notes and slightly retouched some passages, it goes without saying that all possible errors (and they are unavoidable) are mine and only mine.

[2] Mehyan [Pagan Temple] was a monthly literary journal published in Constantinople between January and July 1914, seven issues in all. I refer the reader to the first chapter of Le Deuil de la philologie, which is entirely devoted to the Mehyan phenomenon. The director of the journal was Constant Zarian, on which I will focus my attention later in this essay. Hagop Oshagan (1883-1948) is the major Armenian novelist of the 20th century, the author of Mnatosrtats [The Remnants], a novel in three volumes (1932-1934), in which his purpose was “to approach the Catastrophe.” I refer the reader to the (forthcoming) third volume of Entre l’art et le témoignage, entitled Le Roman de la Catastrophe, which offers a reading of The Remnants (as well a partial translation of the novel), and meanwhile to my essays, “Hagop Ochagan tel qu’en lui-même,” Dissonanze (Milano, 1983), and “The Style of Violence,” Armenian Review 38 (Boston, 1985).

[3] The declaration (almost a proclamation) which I am here referring to appears in the third issue of Mehyan, at the end of an article called “Hayastaneayts grakanut’iun” [The literature of all Armenians]. Here is the sentence: “Without a dream, life is not possible. Some preeminent guises of universal fiction are becoming a necessity for us…” (Mehyan, p. 39). Oshagan wrote the word “fiction” here in French (since at this point in March 1914, he had no Armenian word for this idea, although as an approximation he used the word keghtsik’, whose usual meaning is “lie” or “deception”!), and of course “universal fiction” designates myth, a myth to be produced as fiction, but as a founding fiction, and as a fiction that gathers the (national) community.

[4] All this is drawn from fragment 853 of the older version of The Will to Power. See infra, note 11 for the status of this fragment. Here is the original German of the passages that I am quoting: “Es gibt nur Eine Welt, und diese is falsch, grausam, widersprüchlich, verführerisch, ohne Sinn […] Die Metaphysik, die Moral, die Religion, die Wissenschaft — sie werden in diesem Buche nur als verschiedene Formen der Lüge in Betracht gezogen: mit ihrer Hilfe wird ans Leben geglaubt […] Die Aufgabe, so gestellt, ist ungeheur. Um sie zu lösen, muss der Mensch shcon von Natur Lügner sein, er muss mehr als alles andere Künstler sein. Und er ist es auch: Metaphysik, Religion, Moral, Wissenschaft — alles nur Ausgeburten seines Willens zur Kunst, zur Lüge […] Und wann der Mensch sich freut, er ist immer der gleiche in seiner Freude: er freut isch als Künstler, er geniesst sich al macht, er geniesst die Müge als seine Macht…”

[5] These sentences are extracted from the “Manifesto” published in the first issue of Mehyan. The Manifesto was signed by Constant Zarian, Hagop Oshagan (Kufejian), Daniel Varuzhan, Kegham Parseghian, Aharon (Dadou­rian). The five of them are therefore responsible for its content, although we know that much of it was written by Zarian himself, or at least this is what Zarian told in an interview with Garo Poladian (1910-1968), published in the second volume of the latter’s Zruyts’ner. See below note 31.

[6] Cf. Maurice Olender, The Languages of Paradise. Aryans and Semites, A Match Made in Heaven, New York: Other Press, 2002, transl. by Arthur Goldhammer. This superb book deals with the “racia­lization” of philological thought throughout the 19th century in the form of a series of monographs (related among others to Herder, Ernest Renan, Max Müller, Ignaz Goldziher).

[7] I recommend, for example, the postface that Bäumler (1887-1968) wrote for the second edition (Leipzig, 1922) of Karl Heckel, Nietzsche, sein Leben und seine Lehre, his postface to the Kröner’s edition of The Will to Power, and, as well, his 1926 book on Bachofen, Das mythische Weltalter: Bachofens Romantische Deutung des Altertums, reissued in 1965 with a postface (“Bachofen und die Religionsgeschichte”) in which the author claims to correct the “errors of interpretation” to which he had been prone in his youth. This book allows us to understand how a Nazi ideologue could interpret, with a vast show of erudition, the “innocent” philological invention of the myth. Mazzino Montinari has examined Bäumler’s interpretations in the last chapter of his Nietzsche lesen (W. de Gruyter, 1980), an English translation of which was released in 2003 by the University of Illinois Press, 2003.

[8] Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, La Fiction du politique (Paris: Christian Bourgois, 1990), p. 145. English version: Heidegger, Art and Politics (transl. by Chris Turner, Cambridge, Mass.: Basil Blackwell, 1997), p. 101. The term «na­tion­al-esthétisme» comes up at the end of chap. 7, p. 112 in the French original. The equivalent should be on p. 70 of the English translation, but the parenthesis in which it appears (national-socialisme comme national-esthé­tisme) has been skipped by the translator.

[9] Quoted in La Fiction du Politique, p. 108 (Heidegger, Art and Politics, p. 68). The sentence is borrowed from Martin Heidegger, Nietzsche, vol. I: The Will to Power as Art, trad. David Farrell Krell, San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1961, p. 85-86. This volume contains the first course given by Heidegger on Nietzsche in 1936, beginning with an interpretation of that part of Der Wille zur Macht that was called by its editors “The Will to Power as Art” (fragments 793-853). Of course, the use of the words “national community” is an interpretation. Heidegger’s text reads as follows: “Aber über diese zahlen- und men­gen­mäßige Vereinigung hinaus soll das Kunstwerk eine Feier der Volksgemeinschaft sein: ‘die’ Religion.” See Heidegger, Nietzsche, Erster Band, Neske, 1961, p. 102.

[10] Karl Löwith, in the second edition (1956, title slightly modified) of his 1935 book, Nietzsches Philosophie der ewigen Wiederkehr des Gleichen (whose ambition was to describe Nietzsche’s philosophy as a “system in the form of aphorisms”) added a useful appendix entitled “Zur Geschichte der Nietzsche-Deutung (1894-1954).” See Löwith, Sämtliche Schriften, vol. 6 (Stuttgart, 1987), pp. 345-384. This appendix, the greater part of which was written in 1935, had, for political reasons, initially circulated only in private form (see pp. 363 and 542).

[11] I am following David Farrell Krell’s translation, as put forward in the volume quoted above. A large part of my understanding of Nietzsche’s thought comes from Heideg­ger. The courses on Nietzsche regrouped in Heidegger’s two-volume book (four volumes in the English translation) had been offered in Freiburg between 1936 and 1940, im­me­diately after Heidegger quit his post in the Rectorate of this University.- Heidegger’s quotations refer to the classical version of Der Wille zur Macht, published in 1911 by Otto Weiss in volumes XV and XVI of the “Grossoktav” edition, and reprinted by Kröner. Here I use the same references with the abbreviation WM followed by the number of the fragment. The fragment numbered 853 had been slightly edited for this edition by O.Weiss. In the Kritische Gesamtausgabe, initiated by Giorgio Colli and Mazzino Montinari (Walter de Gruyter, Berlin, 1967 ff, to which – as recommended by the editors – I will refer with the abbreviation KGW) it will be found in two parts, KGW VIII, 11 [415] and KGW VIII 17 [3]. Both of them stem from notebooks written in the Spring of 1888, even if “the internal evi­dence for a date earlier than the preface [of The Birth of Tragedy] actually published in 1886 seems very strong,” as was asserted by Walter Kaufmann in a note to his translation of the fragment on the basis of the classical edition (The Will to Power, Vin­tage Books, New York, 1967, p. 451.) The fact is that the first part of the fragment is a draft for a new preface to the Tragedy book, which had been copied with some trans­formations and completed a few months later.  Relying on this sole fragment, it can be said that the editorial work does not seem scan­da­lous. The thrust to forcibly compose and publish a work na­med Der Wille zur Macht, a project that Nietzsche himself had finally dismissed at the end of the Summer of 1888, is of course profoun­dly questionable, as are the faked passages and the very choice of the fragments in the first edition (1901). Nonethe­less it does not seem to me that this editorial cons­truc­tion is suf­fi­cient in itself to explain the incredible and constant misinterpretation to which Nietzsche’s work was submitted for half a century. This remark is essential to my approach in the present essay and is the basis of my constant and formidable doubt. Karl Löwith expressed the same doubt in a letter addressed to Jean Wahl (1936): “Car c’est un moment de la pensée de Nietzsche lui-même qui explique qu’il ait pu… apparaître comme celui qui a préparé la voie aux fausses idéologies… La critique de l’abus que l’on a fait de Nietzsche doit être accompagnée par une critique de Nietzsche lui-même, comme origine profondément historique de l’influence qu’il a exercée.” See Löwith, Sämtliche Schriften, op. cit., p. 453.

[12] KGW VIII, 2 [130], from fall 1885 to fall 1886.

[13] Cf. The Birth of Tragedy, trans. Shaun Whiteside (with an introduction by Michael Tanner,) Penguin Books, New York, 1993, p. 14. This is the most recent translation of this work. In Walter Kaufmann’s translations and critical accounts, the words “apollinisch” and “dionysisch” are rendered as “apollinian” and “dionysian”, “following the precedent of Brinton, Morgan and the English version of The Decline of the West.” (W. Kaufmann, Nietzsche, Philosopher, Psycho­lo­gist, Antichrist, Princeton University Press, 1968, p. 128.)

[14] The Birth of Tragedy, op. cit., p. 9. Nietzsche’s emphasis

[15] Daniel Varuzhan, Yerkeri Liakatar Zhoghovatsu [Complete Works], vol. 3, Yerevan, 1986, p. 274.

[16] This translation was published in no. 3-4 of the review GAM (Montreal) in 1986.

[17] Only recenlty were new translations into Eastern Armenian brought forth by Hakob Movses: Baruts’ yev ch’arits’ andin [Beyond Good and Evil], Ch’astvatsneri mt’nshaghë [Twilight of the Idols], Yerevan: Apolon, 1992; Ayspes khosets’ Zradashtë [Thus spoke Zarathustra], Yerevan: Van Aryan, 2002; and finally Zvart’ gitut’iunë [The Gay Science], Yerevan: Van Aryan, 2005, without critical apparatus but with prefaces that demand a thorough examination (I will conduct this examination elsewhere).- Meanwhile Vardan Azatyan reminds me a) that there was a complete translation of Nietzsche’s works in Russian as early as 1909-1912, of which the main translator was Simeon Frank; b) that the Russian reception of Nietzsche did not take place without religious and mystical undertones, particularly among the followers of Rudolph Steiner; c) that my assertion must be read with some qualification if we consider the pre-Stalinist period (until 1928) and Lunacharsy’s activity at that time; d) that the 1909-1912 translation was not unknown to the dissident intellectuals in the Soviet Union. In this vein see also Bernice Glatzer Rosenthal (ed.), Nietzsche and Soviet Culture: Ally and Adversary, Cambridge Univ. Press, 1994, which is a disappointing contribution to the topic at hand (a scathing review of the book by Richard Davies has been published in the Journal of European Studies, Vol. 5, n° 3, 1995). Finally it was an Armenian philosopher, Karen Svasyan, who published the two-volume edition of Nietzsche’s works in Russian in 1990.

[18] Indra (Diran Cherkian) was born in 1875 in Constantinople. He was arrested and died on the road of deportation in 1921, in a state of physical exhaustion and mental disarray. His masterwork, Nerashkharh [Inner world] was published in 1905 (the standard edition of his works appeared in Yerevan in 1980.) Ner­ash­kharh is one of the most powerful literary machines ever written in Western Armenian. It is a prose work celebrated by its rare readers for, above all, its mystical trends and extreme linguistic creativity. Armenian admits the creation of neologisms, but Indra engaged, instead, in what would today be called Joycean wordplay, in which words are regarded as condensed entities whose aim is to reflect the absolute. This text has a philosophical cast: it spins out a continuous thread of reflections on language, madness, and art, all interpreted from a metaphysical standpoint. It is not, however, a theoretical treatise, but a literary, poetic work that cannot be assigned to any immediately definable category; it organizes its linguistic tissue around places, situations, scenes, exotic objects, and memories. In several essays written after the book was published, Chrakean turned his attention to questions of pseudonymous identity, the relation between an author and his name, and that between writing and madness.

[19] Levon Shant (who was born in 1869 in Constantinople and died in Beirut in 1951) was sent to Etchmiadzin as a schoolboy and then as a college student, becoming, as a result, one of the rare Armenian authors to take a full part in the cultural life of both Eastern and Western Armenians, in Constantinople and in Tblisi. To 1921, Shant was also a committed participant in the political struggles waged by the Armenians. Thereafter, he lived in the Diaspora, where he helped found Beirut’s Palanjian Institute, one of the most important centers of Armenian education in the Middle East. He began his literary career as a novelist and started to write for the theater in 1900. His best-known plays are all historical dramas: Hin astvatsnerë [The ancient gods], 1909; Kaysrë [The Emperor], 1916; Shght’ayvatsë [The man in chains], 1921; Inkats berdi ishkhanuhin [The princess of the fallen castle], 1923; Oshin Payl [Bailiff Oshin], 1927. Shant also translated Ibsen into Armenian. His complete works were published in Beirut in ten volumes between 1946 and 1949 by the Hamazkayin publishing house.

[20] Edouard Frenghian, Nietzsche, published in Tblisi.

[21] Ibid., p. 39.

[22] Ibid., p. 41.

[23] Ibid., pp. 41-42.

[24] Ibid., p. 43.

[25] Ibid., p. 84.

[26] Lacoue-Labarthe, La Fiction du politique, op. cit., p. 135. English version, pp. 93-94. “Work” here translates the French oeuvre. I developped this idea of a self-formation of the subject as the central tenet of European humanism in my Yerevan lectures (February 2008), of which a part has been published in the fourth issue of Ink’nagir (Yerevan, June 2008). See Lacoue-Labarthe’s provocative formulation: “Le nazisme est un humanisme”, op.cit. p. 138, English version, p. 96.

[27] An English translation of Alfred Rosenberg’s Der Mythus des Zwanzigsten Jahrhunderts is available on the market (The Noontide Press, 1982). In the chapter 9 of La Fiction du politique, Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe relies on the study that he wrote on this subject jointly with Jean-Luc Nancy: Le Mythe Nazi, éd. de l’Aube, 1991. An English translation of the latter (by Brian Holmes) has been published in Critical Inquiry 16 (Winter 1990).

[28] Pancoopë yev mamut’i voskornerë was first serialized in the review Hayrenik from 1931 to 1933, and only later published in book form (Antelias: Catholicossate of Cilicia, 1987).

[29] Constant Zarian, Navë leran vray (Boston: Hayrenik Publishers, 1943). Twenty years after appearing in serialized form, the novel was published in heavily revised, bowdlerized form in order to bring it into line with Soviet censors’ view of modern Armenian history, especially the period of independence between 1918 and 1920. Zarian took part in this farce, to which he was no doubt incapable of putting a stop. Boghos Snabian has published an incendiary book, Avaz­akhrats navë (The ship run aground) (Beirut: Atlas, 1964), in which he exposes the thousands of modifications introduced into the letter and spirit of the novel. Zarian’s novel (in the original version) has been translated into French by Pierre Ter-Sarkissian and published by Parenthèses in Marseilles.

[30] This work, too, was reissued in book form along with other travel narratives of Zarian’s first period; the volume is entitled, simply, Yerker [Works] (Antelias: Melidinetsi, 1975) and contains other autobiographical narratives originally published in the review Hayrenik. Zarian published several other autobiographical texts in the same review, notably Yerkirner yev astvadzner [Countries and gods] in 1935-1936, Hr’omeakan hushatetr [Roman notebook] in 1948, Hollandakan hushatetrits’ [Selections from the Dutch notebook] in 1949-1950, and, finally, Kghzin yev mi mard [The island and a man] in 1955. Countries and Gods was recently published in Armenia in two magnificent volumes (one on Spain, the other on the United States) edited by Yuri Khachatrian (Yerevan: Khachents, 1999 and 2003). I have written a number of essays in Armenian on Zarian, his autobiographical texts, and his theory of the theater: “Aghetin lr’ut’iunë Kostan Zareani ardzakin mej” [The silence of the Catastrophe in Constant Zarian’s prose], Bazmavep, 1995/1-4, pp. 343-374; “Kostan Zarean, Ankareli t’atronë” [Constant Zarian, the impossible theater], Bazmavep, 1996/1-4, pp. 175-199; and “Kostan Zarean yev Oswald Spengler” [Constant Zarian and Oswald Spengler], Kayk‘, no. 1, Paris, 1990.

[31] Constant Zarian, Interview with Garo Poladian, in Poladian, Zruyts’ner [Interviews], vol. 2 (Cairo, 1961). See also Vartan Matiossian’s essay on Zarian in Ararat, Spring 1984, p. 43.

[32] Oshagan, Panorama, op. cit., vol. 6, p. 187.

[33] Mehyan, p. 19.

[34] See Vartan Matiossian’s essay in the literary supplement to Haratch (December 1988). It includes a French version of the Manifesto of “The Crazy Wills.”

[35] Zarian, Yerker [Works], op. cit., p. 137.

[36] Ibid., p. 138.

[37] The passages on the tight-rope artist may be found in sections 3-6 of the preamble to Zarathustra. In section 4, Nietzsche writes: “Man is a tight-rope between the animal and the superman: a rope stretching over the abyss. It is dangerous to pass to the other end, it is dangerous to stay where one is, it is dangerous to look back…. The greatness of man lies in the fact that he is a bridge, a passage, and a fall.” Zarian, of course, keeps the passage to the other end, and ignores the fall!

[38] The Armenian equivalent is hamatrop‘, a neologism forged ad hoc by Kegham Parseghian, who translated Zarian into Armenian in 1914. Zarian fell back on the word in his 1922 essays on the theater.

[39] Zarian says all this in an open letter that was published in the February 1922 issue of Pardzravank‘. The letter was written in (sharply negative) reaction to the production of a play of Hagop Oshagan’s, Nor Psakë [The new marriage], the subject of which was a scandalous incident that had occurred in the Istanbul Armenian community. In Zarian’s opinion, such “bourgeois” themes were unworthy of a writer of Oshagan’s talent; Oshagan would have done better, he thought, to transpose the equivalent of his own Symbolist “visions” to the stage.

[40] Mehyan, p. 53, Zarian’s emphasis. The Armenian word for “drama-creating” is dramasteghts.

[41] Let us, however, note that unpublished texts of Zarian’s have come down to us, one of which, Tesilkë [The vision], is a theatrical work. See the essay on this subject by Arby Ovanessian in the literary supplement to Haratch (July 1995). This text of Zarian’s should long since have been published.

[42] An interpretation of the word kron that has always existed among the Armenians ties this word for religion to the root kir and the verb krel, “to carry.” This interpretation can be traced back to the fifth-century writer Eznik of Koghb and his theological treatise Against the Sects. The same interpretation recurs frequently in later centuries. (Alishan refers, in particular, to an anonymous sixteenth-century dictionary.)

[43] Mehyan, no. 3, p. 50.

[44] Ibid.

[45] The sentence reads, in Armenian: “Hisus iskakan steghtsagortsi yev ink’nasteghtsi metsashuk’ orinakn e” (Mehyan, p. 18). We know that Zarian wrote in French at the time and that his friends translated his texts into Armenian. The word ink’nasteghts, my translation of which, in the French version of the present book, is “auto-créé,” poses a real problem. In Armenian, the word is perfectly possible; it is not even a neologism. In French, on the other hand, “auto-créé” does not exist, and French is not as tolerant of neologisms. What French word did Zarian employ? This remains a mystery for me.

[46] Mehyan, p. 18.

[47] Ibid., p. 19.

[48] This assertion refers (among others) to a prose text, “The Hero,” a lecture that Varuzhan published (or agreed to have published) in the journal Azadamard in Constantinople in 1909. See LYZ, vol. III, pp. 116-118 and the editor’s remarks, p. 502. I glossed lengthily on this text in Le Deuil de la philologie, chapter 8.

[49] Walter Kaufmann reminds us of this in the 1968 edition of his Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist (p. 41), referring the reader to Ernest Newmann, The Life of Richard Wagner, vol. 4 (New York, 1946). On Wagner’s anti-Semitism, see Janine Altounian, “Haine antisémite et sublimation épique dans la langue de Wagner,” Les Temps modernes, no. 591 (June 1997). Wagner’s fierce­ly anti-Semitic pamphlet, Das Judentum in der Musik (which was published under a pseudonym in 1850 and under Wagner’s real name in 1869) is available in Sämtliche Schriften und Dichtungen (Volksausgabe), vol. 10 (Leipzig, 1871). A new German edition appeared in 1975, in a volume titled Die Kunst und die Revolution  (München: Rogner & Bernhard) with a commentary by Tibor Kneif.

[50] Zarian, Pancoopë, op. cit., pp. 305-306.

[51] It so happens that, down to the present, Armenian hesitates when it comes to translating Nietzsche’s “will to power” or “Wille zur Macht.” The expression Zarian uses here, tirapetakan kamk’, might also be rendered by “sovereign will.” “Tirapetel” means “to dominate.” In 1910, Frenghian used the expressions uzhi kamk‘ and ishxanut’ean kamk‘ interchangeably. Uzh means “force,” whereas ishxanut’iun is closer to the English “power.” There is, plainly, an as yet unresolved question of interpretation here that has to do with the word Macht. It seems to me that Zarian is not far off the mark, assuming that his tirapetakan kamk‘ is in fact the translation of Nietzsche’s “will to power.”

[52] The text reads sti (of lie), here emended to srti (of heart).

[53] Zarian, Pancoopë, op. cit., p. 306.

[54] Ibid., pp. 299-306.

[55] Ibid., p. 302.

[56] In Armenian, matagh, a name designating the sacrificial victim, first and foremost, the animal offered up in sacrifice.

[57] Pancoopë., p. 302.

[58] For a first attempt to understand the place of “sa­crifice” as a concept and the Catastrophe in the Ar­menian case, see my “L’Empire du sacrifice”, L’Intran­quille, n° 1 (Paris,) 1992. A complete examination of this issue is still to come, in the context of a study on Hagop Oshagan’s novel The Remnants (third volume of Writers of Disaster). In view of the Shoah, Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe was wri­ting in his La Fiction du politique: “I argue that there is not the least ‘sa­crificial’ aspect in the operation of Auschwitz… Now, reconsidering the question, I wonder whe­ther in fact, at a quite other level, which would force us at least to re-work the anthro­po­logical notion of sa­cri­fice, one should not speak of sacrifice. This is, indeed, an admission that I am purely and sim­ply at a loss – and I remain so” (pp. 80-81 of the French original, p. 52 of the English trans­la­tion).

[59] Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals, Second Essay, section 12, new translation by Douglas Smith (Oxford World’s Classics, 1996), p. 59, Nietzsche’s emphasis. The passage continues as follows: “I emphasize this central perspective of historical method all the more since it is fundamentally opposed to the prevailing instincts and tastes ofthe time, which would rather accomodate the absolute arbitrariness […] of all that happens, than the theory of a will to power manifesting itself in all things and events.”

[60] Zarian, Pancoopë, op. cit., p. 274.

[61] Ibid., pp. 302-303. In Armenian, the same word (shrjan, shrjel) is used three times in order to describe the “turning-point,” the “nihilistic” period in the history of being that must be traversed, and the “revolution” of the sun. The tone of this passage, written in 1932, is strangely Heideggerian. The recurrent theme of the “sacrificial lamb” and, concomitantly, of self-sacrifice should, however, make us think about the larger context in which this “turning-point” is here conceived. The passage also has biographical undertones: this was the period in which Zarian was getting ready to leave Europe for the United States.

Translated from French and Armenian by G.M. Goshgarian and the author



  1. assurance décennale -ը ասել է:

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