Standard: The best regional Chinese restaurants in London

BEN NORUM | Thursday 4 February 2016 10:03 BST
1).  Sichuan


Aside from the Cantonese style of Chinese food which has long been dominant in the UK, Sichuan has become by far the most popular region for London restaurants. The cuisine’s hallmark flavour is the combination of hot chilli and numbing Sichuan peppercorns, along with a liberal use of garlic. Spicy dan dan noodles and kung pao chicken are among other well-known Sichuan dishes, though the latter will often be made particularly inauthentically.

Sichuan Folk in Spitalfields

and Barshu in Soho

are two of London’s best and best known Sichuan restaurants. The slightly grittier

Chilli Cool near Euston is also popular with expats.

2).  Hunan Province

The food of Hunan has similarities to that of Sichuan, but does not tend use Sichuan peppercorns, instead opting for larger amounts of chilli to create spicier dishes. Stews, dry-wok dishes and a pork belly known as ‘Chairman Mao’s Red-Braised Pork’ are popular menu items.

The best example of Hunan cuisine in London is at

Local Friends in Golders Green (a Bethnal Green sister site has now closed). It is also served at

Yip in in Islington and at

BaShan in Soho, though if you want the authentic spicing you’ll need to specifically ask for it when you order.

3).  Fujian Province

Fujian food is generally lighter and more subtly flavoured than other Chinese cuisines, with a stronger emphasis on letting produce speak for itself. Due to the region being both coastal and mountainous, many less common ingredients from sea and mountains are used — including wild herbs, mushrooms, oysters and crab. Popular dishes include oyster and seafood omelettes and a lot of soups, such as a variation of shark-fin soup known as ‘Buddha Jumps Over The Wall’ made with over 30 ingredients including abalone, dried scallops and pig’s trotters (and not necessarily the offensive fin itself ).

The cuisine is hard to find in London bar a few dishes here and there, but

NewAroma in Chinatown specialises in it.

4).  Shanghainese

In Shanghai city and its surrounding area, cooking involves larger amounts of wine, vinegar, soy and sugar than elsewhere — sweet and sour is a typical example of its flavours. Other characteristics include a lot of seafood, a predominance of rice over noodles and lots of salted meat and preserved vegetables.

Shanghainese food is served at

RedSun in Marylebone.

Ask the staff and they will direct you towards the most traditional dishes.

5).  Shaanxi Province

Dishes in Shaanxi tend to be both spicy and sour, similar to that of Hunan, but seasoning tends to be heavier on salt, garlic and onion. Pork and mutton are the most widely used meats, while steaming is a popular cooking method.

Xi’an Impression in Holloway

serves this cuisine, and takes its name from the province’s capital city of Xi’an. Also look out for streetfood stall

Mama Wang’s Kitchen.

6).  Guizhou Province

Like Shaanxi cuisine, the typical food of the Guizhou Province is reminiscent of that of Hunan, but with more sourness. As a point of difference, Guizhou food is less salty than Shaanxi while many dishes are often cooked to match the flavour of locally-made baijiu liquor, such as Maotai.

London’s best bet for Guizhou cooking is

Maotai Kitchen in Chinatown,

which is named after the popular drink.

7).  Liaoning Province

The food of Liaoning is highly regarded across China and very different to other regional cuisines thanks to a strong influence from cuisines — in particular Japanese, Korean and Russian. It can be characterised by strong flavours, saltiness and oiliness. Popular

TopTaste near Bethnal Green

serves Liaoning dishes as part of its menu.

8).  Xinjiang Province

The Xinjiang province borders Mongolia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, and is home to many ethnic groups including ethnic groups including the Uyghur, Han, Kazakhs, Tajiks, Hui, Kyrgyz, and Mongols. As such the cusine includes many different influences.

Typical dishes include kebabs, roasted fish, lengmen noodles topped with stir-fried meat and vegetables and polu, a form of pilaf rice. Mutton is the most-used meat, and because much of the population is Muslim much of the food is halal.


SilkRoad in Camberwell

for a taste of Xinjiang cooking in London.

9).  Guangzhou

The food from Guangzhou is easiest to find in London as this is from where Cantonese cooking hails. If a restaurant fails to specify what region the food it serves comes from, it’s probably from here. This will also be what is being referred to if something is described as Hong Kong style.

Some of the region’s most common dishes include sweet and sour pork, wonton noodles, chow mein, congee, char siu and roast duck as well as dim sum.

Good places to eat traditional Cantonese food include

Royal China Club on Baker Street,

Phoenix Palace in Marylebone and

DragonCastle in ElephantandCastle.

For roast duck,

GoldMine in Bayswater and

Four Seasons restaurants in Chinatown and Bayswater are especially good.

Of higher-end venues,

Hakkasan serves a modern take on Cantonese, while

Yauatcha specializes in dim sum and tea.

10).  Beijing

Better known as Peking cuisine, the food of Beijing and its surrounding area takes influences from the whole country. By far its most famous dish is peking duck. For the best peking duck in London visit sky-high

MinJiang in Kensington,

or try less pricey RoyalDragon in Chinatown

—where you can also partake in karaoke.

11).  Xizang Province (Tibet)

The Chinese ‘autonomous region’ of Tibet has a cuisine far removed from most of China, though Sichuan food is increasingly popular there. Flatbreads, dumplings, steamed buns and stir-fried meat (usually yak, goat or mutton) are among the staples, with steamed buns called momos among the most famous.

There is only one fully Tibetan restaurant in London —

Kailash Momo in Woolwich.

12).  Taiwan

It might not be part of the People’s Republic of China, but the food of Taiwan — officially titled The Republic of China — is extremely closely linked to that of its neighbour

Steamed buns known as bao are the most popular and best known Taiwanese dish, while noodle soups and pancakes are also prevalent. Another famous export is the drink yung marc, better known as bubble tea.

Leong’s Legends in Chinatown

serves a mix of Taiwanese and Cantonese dishes, while

Bao in Soho

is leading the way in the bun department.


Hunan in Pimlico

also serves mainly Taiwanese food.


“Rape” At The Royal Opera House

There has been a lot of controversy in old and new media over a scene in a new production of Guillaume Tell at the ROH; cf.

Two preliminaries:.  One: I was there at the first night, in seat W14 at the back of the Orchestra Stalls.  If you weren’t, then you will have to take my word for it in terms of what actually happened.  Two: I am a philosophical psychologist (cf. so if you would like to respond, do so to exactly what I write below and not to something in the vicinity of what I say which annoys you.  If you want to be formal about it, I suppose the proposition for which I am arguing is “the scene was appropriate.”

I will start by outlining the events I saw and then show that all of the objections aiming to show that the scene was inappropriate fail.

A foreign army is occupying Switzerland.  At the point in the libretto of interest, we are told that some soldiers force the local women to dance with them.  One woman is offered champagne, somewhat against her will.  She acquiesces nervously.  She is then doused in champagne.  The leader of the occupying forces, Gesler, molests her by placing a pistol between her legs at around mid-thigh level.  She moves on to the dining table, upon which is placed a large table-cloth.  She disappears behind a group of perhaps 10-15 soldiers.  Shortly afterwards, she reappears naked.  The duration of the nudity was something like half a second.  She partly wraps the table-cloth around her and moves away from the table.  The hero, Tell, appears and ensures that she is fully covered.

That’s it for the stage action. There ensued enormous amounts of booing which interrupted the action.  One man shouted out “one step too fucking far mate” and another shouted “Holten out”.  (Kaspar Holten is Director of Opera at the ROH.)  There were a number of noisy walkouts.

The objections I have seen are as below.

The scene was too long

I don’t really see how this objection works.  People have spoken of a ” five-minute gang rape”.  I do not think you can get to five minutes even if you include all of the events I outline above in your duration.  I would put it at two minutes; perhaps three at the outside.  In any case, the nudity was momentary.  This means at the outset we have to decide what constitutes a depiction of rape.  That is a difficult question.  Naturally, there was no sex or simulated sex on stage by anyone, so a fortiori there was no sex or simulated sex involving multiple men and the woman. However, it was clearly the intention of the director to depict rape in some sense and that intention we may assume was realized, because of the intense audience reaction.  I think that this intense negative reaction meant that the “rape” that was perceived by the audience was too long simply because any duration was too long to be comfortable.  But if we are purely talking about seconds on the clock, then it could not have been shorter and remained what it was.  (You may wish to challenge me here by noting that the scene has now been cut and shortened.  Is it still what it was?)  You will also need to deal with the question as to how fictional objects get their properties; see my Sherlock piece:

The scene was gratuitous

This objection cannot succeed; it gains its initial plausibility by appearing to be the nearby objection “the scene had a negative effect”.  To make out the claim that the scene was gratuitous, you have to show that the scene had no effect.  In other words, the aesthetic impact of the piece would have been identical if the scene had been eliminated.  This is transparently false since the audience reaction to the scene and the reaction of others who were not there was immense.  You may well feel that the aesthetic effect of the scene was undesirable, but that is not consistent with saying that its inclusion was gratuitous.

The scene was unnecessary

I can again respond similarly to what I said to counter the previous objection.  In addition, I can observe that nothing is necessary.  Even claims like “everything is identical to itself” are questionable under certain circumstances.

I do not expect to see that at the opera

Why not?  I will defer to others, notably the Director of Opera, to make a number of valid points in response to this.  The scene is fully justified by the libretto (cf.; perhaps also the purpose of art is to shock, sometimes.  Bear in mind that this is about war, not the marriage of Figaro.  Also, why are we holding opera to a much different standard to those we permit on the theatrical stage, or film (cf., let alone what one can see on the internet.

We need to protect victims of rape from depictions of rape

Was this a depiction of rape?  Do we also need to protect people who have had a family member murdered from depictions of murder?  There were several of those in this piece; they aroused no comment.

The inclusion of the scene condones rape

I don’t understand this objection, so if you share it, you will have to explain it to me.  One question is whether or not it matters that the perpretators of the “rape” were the villains of the piece.  If this is an alleviating factor, then it would have been an aggravating one to have had the hero Tell perpetrate it.  Perhaps that would have been the provocative directorial choice.

The scene was “the last straw”

This is one of the more common objections.  It seems to run approximately as follows: `this was a terrible production full of infantile symbolism, each scene was more offensive and unimaginative than the last, the “rape” scene was one step too far’.  I happened to think that the production was brave and innovative, but that is not actually relevant to the argument.  The problem with this objection is that it seems to entail the following: `this rape scene would have been appropriate in a more traditional production, or a production I liked more.’  That seems unmotivated and hard to argue for.  It seems to be caused by the phenomenon of “moral licensing,” which is not a way to stand up an objection.


I conclude that all of the objections fail and the scene was appropriate.  It is therefore unfortunate that the scene has now been modified by weakening it and shortening it.  We may at least note that the Director of Opera did not insist on this; in fact he apologized for the offense that seemed to have been caused and explicitly did not apologize for the production.  This is right and proper; I do not want what I can see at the Royal Opera House controlled by reactionary prudes who can only stomach totally traditional productions.  The changes were made by the Director; so our regret should be that a courageous and ground-breaking production team have been forced to weaken the impact of their vision.

For me, the most dismaying part of the experience was seeing the change in the countenance of Malin Bystrom, who was superb.  She was quite clearly delighted by the richly deserved approbation she received in her curtain call, but was still there for the booing of the production crew.  This is what I call gratuitous.  In fact, I can’t see any occasion on which booing is appropriate.  Walk out silently if you must, but otherwise why not just stay at home.  The ROH is generally sold out; we can do without your ticket money if you think you are going to decide what is appropriate in a production.

Soteriou: The Mind’s Construction Ch1 and Ch2


“Not all aspects of mind fill time in the same way. For example, some elements of our mental lives obtain over intervals of time, others unfold over time, some continue to occur” (p. 1)

Aim is to use these as individuation criteria for mental events/states/processes, which means it will be important that they are clearly definable and do not overlap, and then use those distinctions to illuminate `phenomenal consciousness’

Chapter One

(p. 9, p. 23) Distinction between the `manifest image’ of the mind and the `scientific image’ of the mind in Sellars 1962 is a bit like the distinction between folk psychology and scientific psychology. This is unsurprising since Sellars 1956 is credited with opening up the modern ToM debate in some ways. Similar questions arise. Is the former to be superseded by the latter, or is it to provide data for the latter? In other words, is introspection a legitimate means of enquiry?

(p. 9) Soteriou distinguishes between the legitimacy of introspection/phenomenology approaches to theorising about thought and about sensory experience. The idea is that the latter area seems to be more appropriate to the introspective mode of examination, because “conscious sensory experiences” have a “sensuous character” that “is somehow manifest to one”. This seems to approach but not reach a sort of Immunity to Error argument viz. my thinking some conscious states have certain features suffices to make it the case that they do have such features, such as if it seems to me to be raining, then there is something that seems to me to be the case. [Descartes at the root of this, presumably.]

(p. 9) Concession: introspection may not get us anywhere at all with the scientific image; nor will it (p. 11) alone resolve mental ontology

1.1 Introspection, ‘diaphanous’ experience, and the relation of perceptual acquaintance

(p. 12) The step from `you can introspect the sensuous character of a conscious experience’ to `you can introspect the sensuous character of a mental state’ looks innocent but isn’t.

(p. 13) Argument: Moore and diaphaneity. If you try to introspect an experience, you just get straight to the experience: the experience of blue is just the blue not `experience of blue’. Also, experiences of blue are not themselves blue.

(p. 14) A relational model of sensory experience raises more questions than it answers: what are the relata, what is the relation and how do we know introspection is any use for either question, given the Moore problem?

(p. 15) Relational accounts led to sense data theories to account for hallucination/error

1.2 Representational content and the properties of conscious experience

(p. 18) Introspection cuts both ways in the sense data debate. Looks like there is something relational going on; contra that it looks like the relation is between us and objects in the world not internal entities. Fashion dictates the winner; sense data theories not fashionable any more.

COP [Completeness of Physics]: “All physical effects have only physical causes”

P [Physicalism]: “all entities that exist are physical entities”

COP + P look problematic for sense data – are they physical or not?

(p. 18) “thoughts are to be individuated in terms of propositional contents”

(p. 19) “sensory experiences have intentional contents with veridicality conditions” cf. Frege, thoughts. Leads to: illusions are like false beliefs. We don’t think there needs to be anything in the world to correspond to a false belief so the argument from illusion for sense data looks less appealing. [Though of course this is a bit like `the problem is so big that it isn’t a problem anymore.]

(p. 20) Fechner, psychophysics. Wittgenstein!

1.3 The re-emergence of relational views

(p. 25) This new consensus needs a response to questions such as how much of the character of conscious experience is caused by the relatum and how much by the relation [cf. Frege again].


(p. 26) Preview of next chapter: whether there is a stream of consciousness or not will [as promised in Introduction] throw light on mental ontology and also can be investigated using the Fregean framework under which thoughts are differentiated by propositional content.

Chapter Two

(p. 27) Consider: James `there is a stream of consciousness’ vs. Geach `there is not a stream of consciousness’

(p. 27) Mental states obtain and mental processes occur over time; even if the time taken is the same, these two unfoldings are different

2.1 The temporal profiles of thought and experience

(p. 28) Geach’s argument is basically that the stream of consciousness is seen as illusory on the line that thoughts are individuated by propositional contents, because those propositions then pass through the mind sequentially and separately. [But how do we know that this separation is not an artifact or mere consequence of the individuation criterion? Also, this looks a bit like a contest between competing introspections.]

2.2 Geach on the discontinuous character of thought

(p. 30) Geach’s argument: you can’t half have a thought; it must all be present at once. There are no transitions. Therefore you can’t have two at once — two thoughts cannot overlap. Therefore there is no stream of consciousness. Soteriou aims to look at all these steps.

(p. 31) Non-succession basically flows from the propositional content model. Saying `John is tall’ takes time but thinking it doesn’t because you haven’t thought anything unless you think the whole proposition.

(p. 31) “S can’t simply have a belief that ‘John’ ”. Can’t he, in a way, have that? Could it not be that a belief with the content `John exists’ could have that form? Alternatively, imagine hearing someone unknown come in, and wondering who it is, with John being the most likely option. We might express the content of your mental state as being `John?’. When you see him a second later, you know it is him. The two mental states separated by a second are 1). `John?’ and 2). `John’. Soteriou is again assuming a propositional model of thought content — which may be fine — and also it disallows propositions like `John’. Soteriou can probably say here that the account doesn’t mind what sort of propositions are allowed, as long as they can’t have duration. You still have to think the whole proposition at once if you think it at all.

(p 32) `the pack of cards is on the table’ is not thought in order with some bit of thought corresponding to `of’. [OK, but couldn’t there also be an ordering/division like `that’ `there’? Couldn’t you get half way through thinking the pack of cards is on the table when you realise that the thing on the table is a book and the cards are on the chair…?]

(p. 32) Geach: since there is no temporal order, there are also no transitions — because even if two propositions have a shared element, then they would not share a temporal part. [Can we think more than one proposition at once? Propositions entailed by a proposition thought. Subconscious propositions?]

(p. 34) Soteriou: however, there can be transitions between mental states, which is a problem for Geach. [Soteriou will try to fix the problem and adopt a modified version of Geach’s anti-stream of consciousness line. Is this consistent with Soteriou’s later commitment to a stream of sensory consciousness…?]

2.3 The ontology of the stream of consciousness

(p. 34) O’Shaughnessy: it is the necessity of flux that distinguishes the flow of the stream of consciousness, not just the flux itself, so experiences are not mental states

(p. 35) O’Shaughnessy: a mental state is like knowing that 9 + 5 = 14; it obtains

(p. 37) What distinguishes the cognitive from the sensory is not their properties but how they fill time [So that isn’t a property or reducible to one?]

2.4 Representational content and the ontology of experience

(p. 39) If over “t1–t5 S underwent an experience with the content ‘That F is G’, it would be a mistake to think that from t1 to t2 S underwent a conscious experience with the content that ‘That F’, and over the interval of time t3–t5 S underwent a conscious experience with the content that ‘is G’. This is a restatement of the modified Geach anti-stream of consciousness line espoused by Soteriou. [The claim looks phenomenologically plausible. But does it still work if the t1 to t3 etc time-slices become extremely small, of the order of nanoseconds? Soteriou handles this by saying that even so, the parts of the experience cannot be reduced to parts of the proposition.]

(p. 42) “the representational content of conscious sensory experience type-individuates a perceptual state of the subject”

2.5 Representational content and phenomenal character

[Qualia or what it is like to be a mental state need to be accounted for. Since Soteriou is not going with a stream of consciousness approach, then failure of such an account of qualia to be apt for inclusion in mental flow is no disqualification. Soteriou will now go on in 2.6 to outline the proposal he flagged in the introduction: we can categorise mental ontology by looking at the temporal underpinnings of phenomenal character.]

2.6 An ontological proposal: occurrence, state, and explanatory circularity

This will be Soteriou’s first outing of the major novelty in his approach.

(p. 47) The proposal: “individuate the kind of phenomenally conscious state that obtains in terms of the kind of mental event/process in virtue of whose occurrence the state obtains” — not a supervenience relation.

(p. 48) A circularity deriving from inter-dependence: “ interdependent status of event/process and state introduces a certain kind of explanatory circularity” i.e. each depends on the other. [How vicious is this circle, and circles generally…? Later Soteriou will say that the circularity may be not vicious but perhaps use its difficulty to reinforce its plausibility by suggesting it explains the `explanatory gap’. This is clever, because it suggests that the circularity is there because reality is just like that — and we have to get on with it.]


[For Soteriou, there is a stream of sensory consciousness but it will not be made up of a stream of propositions.]

[So — a good start. Soteriou has told us what the background is, what he is assuming, and where he wants to get to.]

Sherlock Holmes as Enemy of Confirmation Bias

Further to my recent paper on Sherlock and the ontology of ficta:

– which was kindly tweeted by Dr Watson:

– I was also pointed by Dr Watson towards some very interesting Holmes quotes aimed at showing that he is a fan of data-driven decision making:

That looked like a decent case, but what struck me more about the five well-chosen quotes is that they really show that Holmes is very well aware of the problem of Confirmation Bias. This is prevalent everywhere in everyone and completely bedevils our reasoning abilities. Given that this is very modern psychology, it is remarkable that Holmes was on to it so quickly.

I will proceed as follows. I will give you the quotes; I will tell you what Confirmation Bias is; I will show how the quotes show that Holmes is aware of the problem, and I will close with some brief remarks as to why Confirmation Bias is a problem.

Quotes from Sherlock

Here are the quotes; again courtesy of the Umbel blog.

1. “There is nothing like first-hand evidence.”

2. “The world is full of obvious things which nobody by any chance ever observes.”

3. “It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.”

4. “I never guess. It is a shocking habit,—destructive to the logical faculty.”

5. “‘Data! Data! Data!’ he cried impatiently. ‘I can’t make bricks without clay.’”

What is Confirmation Bias?

First cut: Confirmation Bias is the tendency to confirm what you already believe.

This of course is the enemy of good hypothesis formation. You should instead attempt to falsify what you believe. That is the only way of proving anything, because attempting to prove what you already believe just gives you an endless series of facts which are consistent with your hypothesis. You can have an infinite series of consistent observations but that proves nothing; whereas a single disconfirmatory observation disproves the hypothesis!

Given the remarkable asymmetry in power of potential observations, it is remarkable that few people ever look where they ought to. Of course, one reason for that is that if you falsify a hypothesis you already hold, you will have to track through the ramifications of that for your whole belief structure. If for instance, you find out that the man in the hot is not Moriarty, you will have to discard a large number of other beliefs. If you saw the man in the hat at the station, you now have to believe that the man at the station was not Moriarty, and so on, with potentially significant consequences for your picture of the world. This takes time and energy so people don’t want to do it.

Confirmation Bias comes in three main forms: a) not looking for disconfirmatory evidence; b). ignoring disconfirmatory evidence if it is pressed upon one; c) discounting disconfirmatory evidence.

Holmes on the Case

The key is quote 3, which is basically a statement of the problem of Confirmation Bias. The facts you actually see are twisted by what you are expecting to find, and so you will ten inexorably to find what you were expecting. For that reason, guessing is a mistake, as Holmes points out in quote 4. Because a guess does not stand in a vacuum. It is formed from currently existing half-beliefs and things you are prepared/want to believe. SO it is biassed. Worse still, the guess becomes a hypothesis which by the twisted magic of Confirmation Bias will now find ways of becoming your truth. Holmes is right to call this a shocking abuse of logic.

Quote 2 speaks to the problem of ignoring data. Many obvious things are unremarkable merely because we have seen them so often. Take gravity. Why do we stick to the earth? Isn’t that odd? No-one thinks so, but how can it be explained? (Incidentally I object to the latest TV version having Holmes say he doesn’t know that the earth goes around the sun because it changes nothing here. We would, for example, be shocked by his failure to expose as an impostor a scientist who claimed the sun goes round the earth. So Holmes needs an excellent theory of the world in order to have the excellent Theory of Mind that he clearly enjoys.)

Quotes 1 and 5 speak to the primary importance of data, which as I have been saying must be impartially collected and not merely what makes it through after Confirmation Bias.

Why is Confirmation Bias a problem?

Think about just two things: religion and politics. Imagine that you have been trained from a young age to believe a set of random hypothesis and have then had a lifetime exercising Confirmation Bias to back up these hypotheses. Some people move on from religious fairy tales, but many do not. Also, have you noticed that most people vote the way their parents did? They seem to know *without listening* that everything that the other political party says is wrong. This sort of factor gives you the political polarisation currently visible in America and elsewhere.

This is not a good thing and Holmes is right to warn us strongly against it. Beware Confirmation Bias!

How can we reconcile the following apparent truths: ‘Sherlock Holmes doesn’t exist’ and ‘Sherlock Holmes was created by Conan Doyle’?

Article below published here:

Short, T.L. 2014. How can we reconcile the following apparent truths: ‘Sherlock Holmes doesn’t exist’ and ‘Sherlock Holmes was created by Conan Doyle’?. Opticon1826 (16):8, DOI:

MPhil Ch5: Nietzsche on Memory: Conclusion

The starting point for this thesis was the claim that memory is of a higher importance for Nietzsche and the understanding of his work than has been hitherto recognised. I made out this claim by arguing initially that for Nietzsche, memory is what makes us human, and by also noting the importance and unusual nature of Nietzsche’s picture of forgetting. Having established the significance of memory, it became clear that we need to understand what exactly Nietzsche means by the term. It became apparent that there were many uses and nuances and do it appeared valuable to separate out the various meanings into different types and subtypes of memory.

This separation generated four different types of memory. I will first recapitulate their definitions before summarising the arguments for their existence. Passive Memory was defined on p. 17 as being composed of two subtypes: Inhibitory Memory and Imposed Memory. Imposed Memory was defined as any memory which is imposed externally; and Inhibitory Memory was defined as any memory which tends to suppress action. Active Memory was defined on p. 21 as any use of memory which is both selected by the rememberer and tends to promote activity. Organic Memory was defined on p. 35 as any use of memory in which any of the following markers are present: i). it is physiologically based; or ii). it is stored via experiences of events that did not take place during the lifetime of the rememberer or iii). it is available to life beyond humanity. Collective Memory was defined on p. 62 as any use of memory or its contents in which the results could not be re-described on the basis of a sum over individual memories.

The argument for the first distinction between Passive Memory and Active Memory was driven by the way that Nietzsche sees activity as a major source of value and by his remarks to the effect that some memories were valuable and some were not. In particular, there was an identification in Nietzsche between passive and reactive memory and passive and reactive behaviour, all of which Nietzsche saw as less valuable. This led to the conclusion that some memories tended to promote activity and some



tended to inhibit it, resulting in the two types. Passive Memory was linked to the phenomenon of ressentiment, a complex theme of Nietzsche’s which is nevertheless seen by him negatively, at least from the perspective of those experiencing it.

Passive Memory was shown to be made up of two subtypes: Inhibitory and Imposed. While they need not be identical, they will overlap quite significantly in the weak and those suffering from ressentiment, for those who have no control over some of what they remember will also have little freedom of action. This argument was primarily driven by the association in GM between the imposition of memories of public punishments and the inhibition of action in those who have such memories.

Active Memory was primarily argued for – see §2.2.2 – by contrasting it with Passive Memory on several axes. As mentioned, the first of these distinctions was by the valuation ascribed by Nietzsche, but distinctions were also shown in terms of power, bad conscience, the memory of the will, contest and competition, and effective self-creation.

There is a third major type of memory for Nietzsche: Organic Memory. While I claim that the first distinction between Passive Memory and Active Memory is true and useful to us today, Organic Memory is perhaps a less useful claim. Understanding what Nietzsche means by it remains an important pre-requisite for reading him however, because it can cause us to mistake useful claims about our memory with the wider concept of Organic Memory that Nietzsche also considers.

We saw that Organic Memory was a new type since Nietzsche extended it to previous generations of humans and also to the non-human world of plants. This contrasts with Passive Memory and Active Memory types in humans. It is probably beyond what we would accept today as falling within the standard meaning of the term ‘memory’ and reflects some of Nietzsche’s interest in biological views which are no longer current.

I argued that understanding this additional memory type could give us fresh perspectives on the important themes of Dionysus vs Apollo and the Übermensch. In the first case, forgetting is part of the value of the drives, while in the second case the special memory abilities of the Übermensch were linked to his ability to affirm the Doctrine of Eternal Recurrence.

My final task was to eliminate a misunderstanding. Several authors have claimed or assumed that Nietzsche recognises a type of Collective Memory. I argued that when authors have involved Nietzsche to support existence claims for Collective memory, they were mistaken. Often this occurred because they were confused by Nietzsche’s admittedly rather opaque references to the slightly strange Organic Memory type.

I conclude that understanding to which memory type Nietzsche is referring is valuable and important: it gives us better perspectives on what memory is and what Nietzsche means.


[1] F. W. Nietzsche and R. J. Hollingdale, Untimely Meditations. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1983.

[2] F. W. Nietzsche, M. Clark, and A. J. Swensen, On the Genealogy of Morality: a Polemic. Hackett Pub. Co., Indianapolis, 1998.

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[5] S. R. Luft, “The Secularization of Origins in Vico and Nietzsche,” The Personalist Forum, vol. 10, no. 2, pp. 133–148, 1994.

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[7] W. A. Kaufmann, Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist. Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1974.

[8] F. W. Nietzsche and R. J. Hollingdale, Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future. Penguin Books, London, 2003.

[9] J. Richardson, Nietzsche’s New Darwinism. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2008.

[10] F. W. Nietzsche, M. Clark, and B. Leiter, Daybreak: Thoughts on the Prejudices of Morality. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1997.

[11] F. W. Nietzsche, A. Ridley, and J. Norman, The Anti-Christ, Ecce Homo, Twilight of the Idols, and Other Writings. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2005.

[12] E. Bertram and R. E. Norton, Nietzsche: Attempt at a Mythology. International Nietzsche Studies, University of Illinois Press, Champaign, 2009.



[13] G. Deleuze, Nietzsche and philosophy. Continuum Books, London, 2006.

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[15] F. W. Nietzsche, R. Bittner, and K. Sturge, Nietzsche: Writings from the Late Notebooks. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2003.

[16] K. A. Pearson, A Companion to Nietzsche. John Wiley & Sons, Hoboken, 2009.

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vol. 65, no. 1, pp. 1–11, 2005.

[18] R. Wollheim, The Thread of Life. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1986.

[19] J. Sutton, “Memory,” in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (E. N. Zalta, ed.), Metaphysics Research Lab, CSLI, Stanford University, summer 2010 ed., 2010.

[20] F. W. Nietzsche, B. Williams, J. Nauckhoff, and A. Caro, The Gay Science: With a Prelude in German Rhymes and an Appendix of Songs. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2001.

[21] F. W. Nietzsche, R. Geuss, A. Nehamas, and L. Lo ̈b, Nietzsche: Writings from the Early Notebooks. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2009.

[22] J. Derrida and R. Beardsworth, “Nietzsche and the Machine,” Journal of Nietzsche Studies, no. 7, pp. 7–66, 1994.

[23] A. Kee, Nietzsche Against the Crucified. SCM Press, Norwich, 1999.

[24] C. D. Acampora, Nietzsche’s On the Genealogy of Morals: Critical Essays. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Lanham, 2006.

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[26] H. Staten, “The Problem of Nietzsche’s Economy,” Representations, no. 27, pp. 66–91, 1989.

[27] P. S. Loeb, “Finding the Übermensch in Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morality,” Journal of Nietzsche Studies, no. 30, pp. 70–101, 2005.

[28] R. Poole, “Memory, Responsibility, and Identity,” Social Research, vol. 75, no. 1, pp. 263–286, 2008.

[29] A. Ridley, “Nietzsche’s Conscience,” Journal of Nietzsche Studies, no. 11, pp. 1– 12, 1996.


[30] P. Goldie, “Empathy with One’s Past,” Southern Journal of Philosophy, vol. 49,
no. s1, pp. 193–207, 2011.

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[37] J. S. Gamble, “The Indian Species of Mimosa,” Bulletin of Miscellaneous Information (Royal Gardens, Kew), vol. 1920, no. 1, pp. 1–6, 1920.

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[46] P. M. Lützeler, “[untitled],” German Studies Review, vol. 21, no. 1, pp. 205–206, 1998.


[47] A. Nehamas, Nietzsche: Life as Literature. Harvard University Press, Cambridge,

[48] J. K. Winfree, “Before the Subject: Rereading The Birth of Tragedy,” Journal
of Nietzsche Studies, no. 25, pp. 58–77, 2003.

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vol. 28, no. 4, pp. 415–444, 1996.

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[51] Plato, Meno. Arc Manor, Rockville, 2009.

[52] R. Wicks, “Friedrich Nietzsche,” in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (E. N. Zalta, ed.), Metaphysics Research Lab, CSLI, Stanford University, summer 2011 ed., 2011.

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[56] A. Funkenstein, “Collective Memory and Historical Consciousness,” History and Memory, vol. 1, no. 1, pp. 5–26, 1989.

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MPhil Ch4: Nietzsche on Memory: A Collective Memory Type?

Gedächtniß hat Ursachen der Moralität – und wir haben es nicht in der Hand! NB. NF–1880, 6 [344]

4.1 Introduction

The question as to whether Nietzsche recognises a Collective Memory type will be the topic of this Chapter. This is important because commentators – below I will discuss Poole, Margalit, Funkenstein, Gambino, Assmann, Czaplicka and Lattas, Richardson and Staten but there are others – invoke Nietzsche in the context of discussing Collective Memory. There seems to be some conviction that Nietzsche recognises Collective Memory. I will however deny that he does recognise Collective Memory in a meaningful way, which is why this topic has been postponed to a separate chapter. I will argue that when commentators believe that Nietzsche does in fact recognise Collective Memory, it is because they have mistakenly identified his concept that I termed Organic Memory on p. 35. This is a confusion since Organic Memory is not distinctively human while Collective Memory is. By confusing the two, we weaken one of Nietzsche’s main claims which involves drawing a sharp boundary not between humans and animals but between some humans and other humans.

The first point we need to decide on is the definition of Collective Memory. Then we can decide whether Nietzsche recognises it.



4.2 What Is Collective Memory?

Ideas of what Collective Memory is or does tend to be hazy. It might be memories of the second world war. The majority of us, who were not there, nevertheless have ‘folk memories’ of some of the events that took place, and these memories feed into our notions of who we are in what is termed ‘concretisation of identity’. Collective Memory is not the form it is stored in: so it will not be books themselves even though plenty of the contents of Collective Memory, if it exists, could be stored in books. One idea is that Collective Memory is justified because there are certainly memories one must have if one is to be a member of a particular group. There are, certainly, groups of people which may be individuated by a memory that they share. Various items must be remembered to some extent – which does not necessarily mean believed in – in order to be a member of a particular group.

Everyone who claims to be a member of the group of people who support the England football team must remember Stuart Pearce exorcising the ghost of a missed penalty in Euro 96. If they had no memory of this, they would not be accepted as a member of the group by other members. This, for some authors, suffices to establish that there is a useful concept of Collective Memory. However, finding the term useful as shorthand does not suffice to make Collective Memory exist as a unity. Commentators employ the term Collective Memory more often than they define it. It is certainly right, as Poole suggests1 that the term Collective Memory needs to be handled with care, and to note that “there is a genuine question as to legitimacy of the notion of collective memory”.

Margalit observes2 that while there are indisputable cases of individual memory, there are no indisputable cases of Collective Memory; it may just be a “doubtful extended metaphor”. It is then suggested that an ethical treatment of the past requires that Collective memory exist, because “[c]onveying the sensibility of events from the past that should be landmarks in our collective moral consciousness calls for a special agent of collective memory”.3 This ‘special agent’ is some kind of ‘moral witness’. Nietzsche will have a large number of problems with this. He will doubtless begin by observing that even if you are successful in showing that your moral consciousness requires X, this is no security whatsoever that X exists, or will fulfil the role you need. He will be entirely deaf to your pleas that X ‘should’ exist because the world is not arranged for your benefit. Beyond this impressive opening defence, he will if pressed have additional resources to deploy. He may point to the circularity involved in having a moral requirement for the existence of X in order to give moral significance to something else. He may point out that you have not yet done anything at all to convince him that your morality is the right one. All of this produces an initial

1Poole [28, p. 274].
2Margalit [31, p. 15].
3Margalit [31, p. 17].


scepticism that Nietzsche will recognise Collective Memory: what is clear is that he will not allow any weight to an argument for Collective Memory that requires it to exist to fulfil an unfounded moral requirement.

Funkenstein wishes to retain the term, even while admitting that the memories of a particular event will be different for different people who experienced it; to say nothing about the different memories of people who experienced an event and those who were informed of it. Collective Memory is “not a mistaken and misleading term” provided it is “used within clear limitations”.4 An attempt is then made to define Collective Memory by analogy with language. A language is instantiated by speech acts of individuals, and also in writing. We can meaningfully speak of the existence of a language because we can sum over all of the individual occasions when someone speaks or writes English and say: that is the English language. The analogy with memory purports to be that we can sum over all of the individuals involved in what we might term ‘memory acts’ and say: that is Collective Memory. At this point, Socrates of all people will bring the fatal complaint that you are giving him examples when he asked for a definition. This again shows at most the useful nature of the idea of Collective Memory and pragmatic advantage does not suffice as an existence proof.

The obvious question underlying all of this is how can there even be a Collective Memory since only individuals have memories, as we normally understand the term. While Nietzsche has widened our perspectives as to what those individual memories can contain and how dynamic they can and should be, the extent to which these factors apply to collectives rather than the individuals remains to be seen. We have though seen, in §2.3, that Nietzsche allows the apparent commonality of fabricated experience to be a reflection of the way that we will all tend to use similar projections. Then there is also the question as to what these groups are that might have Collective Memory. Candidate groups will include nations, ethnic groups, members of a university and cricket aficionados. These groups will have different qualifying memories. Some groups one will choose to become a member of and some will be a result of biology or history. It will be immediately apparent that any individual would have a large array of overlapping collective memories, so we would be dealing with a diffuse and amorphous phenomenon.

The term Collective Memory, if it is to be meaningful, must not reduce to being a collection of individual memories. It must be greater than the sum of its parts. In other words, it must be non-compositional. If it is not, then it is merely a re-description at a more convenient level of a phenomenon that actually only takes place on an individual level. By analogy, it may be more convenient for me to say that the England cricket team performed well on the field, rather than listing each member

4Funkenstein [56, p. 6].


of the team and stating the same in relation to each. That does not establish that the team has the same mode of existence as the men that make it up. Similarly, if Collective Memory is just a convenient way of describing common influences on individual memory, it is not a separate entity from individual memories.

It now becomes difficult to find a definition of Collective Memory that gives it actual existence – or at least, to place it on a similar footing to individual memory. After all, individual memory is not an object, so we should not set the bar any higher for Collective Memory. ‘Individual memory’ is a useful term because it refers to the observed phenomenon of persons being able to recall events in the past. It is a physical phenomenon, if physicalism is correct; in any case, it is a real ability that persons have. So we need to find what Collective Memory could be to be a real ability that persons have if we are to set the bar at the same level. Again, it cannot be a re- description such that if I and my brother can both remember the same cricket game, that suffices to establish Collective Memory. This seems to be a common influence on separate individual memories – which is not a controversial claim. So Collective Memory must add something to separate memories. Perhaps I have a memory which is incomplete in some way, either in regard to content or to significance, and it can be completed by a memory that someone else has. If we found this, we would have identified Collective Memory, because we would have found something that could not be re-described by listing the contents of individual memories, assuming such an exercise to be possible. Throughout this thesis, I will define Collective Memory as any use of memory or its contents in which the results could not be re-described on the basis of a sum over individual memories.

Poole proposes5 to arrive at an account of Collective Memory by extending Nietzsche’s concept of ‘memory of the will’, or conative will as it is termed. This project will involve the concepts of collective identities, by which can be meant group membership or nationality, and shared responsibilities. The intention is to extend the account of conative memory from the individual to Collective Memory, and argue that if we understand the role of Collective Memory “in terms derived from” Nietzsche (and Locke), we will understand its role in the formation of collective identities and the transmission of collective responsibilities. This may not exactly be a claim that Nietzsche recognises a type of Collective Memory, but it is at least tantamount to one. It tells us that he should have recognised it or that he has provided us with the tools to do so, even if he did not do so himself.

Poole argues6 that “Nietzsche’s insight was to realise that this kind of memory, and the identity associated with it, was not given by nature […] but created by […] social life.” We must here again be careful to avoid concluding that a memory which is created by a collective is ipso facto a Collective Memory. The argument continues by

5Poole [28, p. 264].
6Poole [28, p. 273].


suggesting that this memory may be the type of memory that Nietzsche sees society imposing using pain on the GM account that we have considered at length. It does seem clear that society imposes these memories that I have termed passive memories as a way of enforcing commitments to society, but that does not entail that this is Collective Memory, unless we accept that general memories that are ‘the same’ in different individuals suffices to qualify those as collective memories. There is then a question as whether you and I have the numerically identical memory when we both remember that we have to pay tax; or whether some lesser criterion – perhaps different tokens or instantiations of ‘the same’ memory – will mean that we have (share?) a Collective Memory of tax obligations. I will deny this.

4.3 Does Nietzsche Recognise Collective Memory?

There are two elements in Nietzsche’s work which one might see as Collective Memory. These are the various types of historical sense discussed in UM II and then the GM II notion of societies feeling a sense of being indebted to their founders. I discuss each in turn.

4.3.1 Historical Sense

The first question here is whether Nietzsche is referring to memory at all when he discusses the historical sense. Then we will need to decide on whether we can extend to a Collective Type. I will conclude that the historical sense is indeed a type of memory for Nietzsche, but that he does not intend it to be extended to a collective type.

What Is Historical Sense?

Historical sense is our sense that there has been a past and that we have a place in its narrative. It allows us to “assimilate and appropriate the things of the past”,7 which gives us Nietzsche’s central question: what is it good for? It is the use of past events to aid us in our current purposes.

Historical sense has three types: “monumental”, “antiquarian” and “critical”.8 I will discuss the first below – see p. 68. Antiquarian history is a excessive “scholarliness”9 that leads to the mummification against which Nietzsche warns. Critical history is the use of the past by considering it and condemning it where necessary: it can form something to be usefully overcome: we must “break up and dissolve a part of the past”.10

7Nietzsche UM II [1, ‘On the uses and disadvantages of history for life’, pp. 62–63].
8Nietzsche UM II [1, ‘On the uses and disadvantages of history for life’, p. 77].
9Nietzsche UM II [1, ‘On the uses and disadvantages of history for life’, p. 75].
10Nietzsche UM II [1, ‘On the uses and disadvantages of history for life’, p. 75].


Historical sense is “a hypertrophied virtue”.11 So Nietzsche allows that it is beneficial when kept within limits and only its overgrowth creates problems. These problems occur when the Historical Sense “no longer conserves life but mummifies it”.12 The problem is one of incorrect use: inspiration for new ways of life is preferred above slavish reflection of the old. Culture, on Nietzsche’s diagnosis, is obsessed by getting to ‘the truth’ of the past and knows that it is. Nietzsche is surrounded by historians and philologists; he will tire of the latter discipline. One’s historical sense is how interested one is in the past. Nietzsche’s question is whether the level of interest is healthy; his answer is no. We might imemdiately wonder whether his own consuming interest in the ancient Greeks is healthy. He has one ready response – he may well not be an exemplar of health – but less glibly, he may propose that the Greeks were interested in the past in a more mythological way, in the way it could inspire action. Thus Nietzsche can claim that he is doing monumental history in a beneficial way.

Is Historical Sense A Form Of Memory?

I will argue that historical sense is a form of memory. Note that if to the contrary Historical Sense is not memory, it is a fortiori not Collective Memory.

The first indication that Nietzsche is talking about memory comes from his setup of the dialectic. He begins the relevant section by speaking of the happiness of animals who are happy because they are forgetful. This is to be contrasted with the unhappy humans who are unhappy because they cannot forget. The human “clings relentlessly to the past”.13 The animal, by contrast, “lives unhistorically”.14 Thus, the animal lacks historical sense, memory and unhappiness. We might perhaps allow that animals do ‘remember’ certain things, in that they can sometimes retrieve items they have previously hidden, for example. This may just be heuristic behaviour though and in any case, it does not constitute memory of the form that humans have where, essentially, I am part of my own memories: I am in the picture. In contrast with animals, the human has historical sense, memory and unhappiness. So at least, memory and historical sense go together.

Secondly, Nietzsche uses the term ‘incorporate’, which as we saw in §2.3, is one of his code words for memory. The term occurs in his discussion of plastic power, which we will discuss again in the next section. Plastic power is defined to be “the capacity to develop out of oneself in one’s own way, to transform and incorporate into oneself what is past and foreign”.15 Plastic power is in fact the power of Active Memory. This again reminds us that active transformation and incorporation is the

11Nietzsche UM II [1, ‘On the uses and disadvantages of history for life’, p. 61].
12Nietzsche UM II [1, ‘On the uses and disadvantages of history for life’, p. 75].
13Nietzsche UM II [1, ‘On the uses and disadvantages of history for life’, p. 61].
14Nietzsche UM II [1, ‘On the uses and disadvantages of history for life’, p. 61].
15Nietzsche UM II [1, ‘On the uses and disadvantages of history for life’, p. 62].


key to beneficial use of memory. The idea of plastic power is a measure of the amount of activity promotion of which memory is capable; Nietzsche evaluates such power positively and indeed thinks a lack of it will be fatal to individuals and peoples. The repetition of the triad ‘man, people, culture’ seems to be more than a stylistic trope: Nietzsche does agree that there is something like a memory that a culture can have. This is emphasised by the fact that two of the terms in the repeated triad are collective terms.

We then have a further coded but unmistakable reference to the excessive Passive Memory of the men of ressentiment who will “possess so little [plastic power] that they can perish from a single painful event, often and especially from a single subtle piece of injustice”.16 This sounds exactly like the problem of Dostoyevsky’s protagonist, as discussed on p. 33. While Nietzsche does not use the term ressentiment in BT, it is interesting that he is making a reference to something like it so far ahead of GM. As we noted on p. 17, Passive Memory is either Imposed or Inhibitory and this passes both tests. The individual possessed by ressentiment will be able to do little about that situation and also it will have substantial inhibitory effects: were the individual able to act uninhibitedly, they would scarcely be a sufferer from ressentiment. Nietzsche then contrasts these individuals with those possessing more Active Memory, who “possess[] a kind of clear conscience” irrespective of “dreadful disasters [or] their own wicked acts”.17 Thus once again, the Active Memory users remain positive and active via a valuable ignorance of the consequences of their acts.

There is further evidence that the historical sense and memory at least go together, when Nietzsche writes: “[i]t is not at all senseless to think that our memory of the past was lesser and that the historical sense also slept, as it slept in the historical acme of the Greeks”.18 This is best interpreted by agreeing that the historical sense is a type of memory for Nietzsche.

There is a parallel between the facts that there is a typology of the Historical Sense and the claim of this thesis that there is a typology of memory. We might also note the parallels that memory as well as Historical Sense are – only loosely – truth-tracking, in that both ostensibly aim at the truth, and derive their authority from that aim. Nietzsche tells us that monumental history may be inaccurate, but that does not matter: its ability to inspire action is more important. Memory too often falls short of truth-tracking and is even distorted.

We must for all these reasons conclude that Nietzsche is indeed discussing memory, both passive and active, in this section on ‘historical sense’.

16Nietzsche UM II [1, ‘On the uses and disadvantages of history for life’, p. 62].
17Nietzsche UM II [1, ‘On the uses and disadvantages of history for life’, p. 62].
18Nietzsche KSA [3, NF – 1873, 29(172)]. Nachlaß, my translation.

66 CHAPTER 4. A COLLECTIVE MEMORY TYPE? Is Historical Sense Collective Memory?

I will deny that Historical Sense is Collective Memory. Anyone believing that Nietzsche recognises Collective Memory must either think that Historical Sense is Collective Memory or the indebtedness of societies which I will discuss in §4.3.2 is Collective Memory. I will therefore be denying both supporting claims in pursuit of my overall argument that Nietzsche does not recognise Collective Memory.

Nietzsche certainly sees some analogies between capacities deriving from the memory of individuals, peoples and cultures. He discusses the damage done by excess of ‘historical sense’, and says that a certain ‘plastic power’ is needed to recover from that excess. Nietzsche writes that the determining the degree of the historical sense which is harmful to the “living thing, whether this living thing be a man or a people or a culture” we need to know “how great the plastic power of a man, a people, a culture is”.19 As shown immediately above, plastic power is another term for the power of Active Memory, so here Nietzsche is saying that the amount or strength of Active Memory possessed by an individual or a culture is the key to deciding their strength. Individuals or cultures who are strong in this way will be able to survive the dangers of Passive Memory, being an excess of historical sense.

The second question then is whether we must also conclude that there is a Collective Memory type. So far we know that the plastic power actively to incorporate can be possessed by individuals and groups, and must be if they are to survive. The fact that groups can possess it does not go any distance towards showing that it is possessed by a group per se; it is consistent with the different claim that a group of individuals each possess it. We know also that this plastic power means the ability to ‘incorporate’ the past and the foreign, to transform it to become useful. Yet this addition of the foreignness that must also be assimilated and the use of the incorporation metaphor for memory weakness the claim that purely memory is under discussion here in terms of what the collective should do, because assimilation of the foreign is not a function of memory. This is true whether we use a standard understanding of the term memory or even extend it to Nietzsche’s picture on which there is also a type of Organic Memory.

This is again suggested by how Nietzsche continues his analysis. While he continues to apply his findings both to a man and to society, he constantly actually discusses it in terms of the individual. Nietzsche writes: “the most powerful nature […] would draw to itself and incorporate into itself all the past”; he also states that it is a “universal law” that a “living thing can be healthy, strong and fruitful only when bounded by a horizon”.20 We have here an important distinction. It is true that Nietzsche observes common factors which apply to all living things and that these relate

19Nietzsche UM II [1, ‘On the uses and disadvantages of history for life’, p. 62].
20Nietzsche UM II [1, ‘On the uses and disadvantages of history for life’, p. 63].


to the memories of those living things. It is also true that similar requirements apply to collectives, who also need boundaries and plastic power for strength. But these points do not entail a Collective Memory type. They do not exclude it either, but the simplest interpretation of Nietzsche here is to allow that he sees that individuals and a collective of individuals will have similar requirements on them in terms of memory, strength and boundaries, but that the Collective Memory may simply be a sum of individual memories rather than a type of Collective Memory. Staten in effect notes this option. He employs21 the term “cultural memory” but later notes that a practice being “the same” across different individuals does not entail “any kind of sameness in the internal representations of those individuals”.22

So for there to be a Collective Memory, there must be something that transcends the individual. If there could be a collective whole that is greater than the sum of individual parts then we would have a true Collective Memory. Otherwise we just have some separate individuals who have similar memories. So now the question becomes: how should we define Collective Memory, in order to decide whether Nietzsche recognises it? This is the question of the next section, §4.2, but first I will look at commentary purporting to link Nietzsche to Collective Memory.


Collective Memory is not what Nietzsche is discussing and that his opaque reference to Organic Memory which we have now elucidated have confused commentators. Nietzsche’s Organic Memory can accommodate the role commentators have allotted to Collective Memory. This is because one key element for Nietzsche of Organic Memory – that it reaches back to previous generations of humans – is sufficient to mean that all humans have it. Recall that we defined Organic Memory on p. 35 as any use of memory in which any of the following markers are present: i). it is physiologically based; or ii). it is stored via experiences of events that did not take place during the lifetime of the rememberer or iii). it is available to humans and also life more generally. Since we defined Collective Memory on p. 62 as any use of memory or its contents in which the results could not be re-described on the basis of a sum over individual memories, two types of memory could co-exist or overlap.

An indication on what we might term the compatibilist side of this question comes from discussion by Poole23 of a late paper of Freud’s. In this, Freud suggests that there is a repressed collective or cultural memory in Jewish people of the murder of the original Moses. On the account, the repression of this memory leads to guilt which is identified as a feature of the Jewish religion. The memory involved here extends back further than individual memory, as Organic Memory does, but also forms part

21Staten [16, p. 575].
22Staten [16, p. 577].
23Poole [28, p. 276].


of a culture, as Collective Memory does. Freud has extrapolated the phenomenon of repression from an individual to a collective level. Since Freud also holds that the transmission mechanism across generations is biological, he is in agreement with Nietzsche, but this again suggests that that the parallel is to Nietzsche’s Organic Memory.

Funkenstein has surprisingly shown24 that Hegel recognised Collective Memory since he used the term in the context of his writings on historical processes. This is significant because we know Nietzsche was familiar with Hegel and in particular was concerned to oppose his historical views. While Nietzsche is free to accept some of Hegel’s views and reject others, to the extent that Collective Memory underpins Hegel’s historical world-process and Nietzsche rejects that, Nietzsche is pro tanto committed to denying Collective Memory also. Funkenstein also allots25 the credit for the first systematic study of Collective Memory to Halbwachs in work first published in 1925, and adds: “Collective Memory is, by virtue of its definition, a “monumental” history in the sense of Nietzsche – and it is nurtured by the “plastic power” of the collective that keeps it alive.”

Since Nietzsche recognises ‘monumental history’, we would have to agree that he recognises a Collective Memory type if the claim can be made out that Collective Memory is a type of monumental history. There are grounds to resist this however. Nietzsche does not use the term Collective Memory; he speaks of monumental history. It is true that his nomenclature is somewhat confusing. The term might suggest the sort of statue or external iconography of memory that we have already discussed, but in fact Nietzsche has more in mind that the study of great personages of the past – surely their deeds not their representations – will be inspiring to those striving to become active today in that they demonstrate that greatness is possible. This might happen via the contemplation of statues but it seems unlikely and in fact Nietzsche is uninterested in the mechanism.

Nietzsche defines monumental history indirectly. Firstly, there is a chain that links “the great moments in the struggle of the human individual”.26 Note how we are speaking of individuals here rather than the collective. The great moments are in fact the great men in history. There is a faith that such men have existed and this faith gives encouragement to the ‘untimely’ in each age who also struggle against society for greatness by allowing them to believe that it is possible. This faith “finds expression in the demand for a monumental history”.27 Thus we are told one of the functions of monumental history, which serves to go some way towards defining it: it is what fulfils that role. We are then told that “greatness goes on living” through the “hard

2424Funkenstein [56, p. 5].
2525Funkenstein [56, p. 9].
2626Nietzsche UM II [1, ‘On the uses and disadvantages of history for life’, p. 68].
2627Nietzsche UM II [1, ‘On the uses and disadvantages of history for life’, p. 68].


relay-race of monumental history”.28 We may conclude then that monumental history is simply the history or mythology of great, inspiring individuals. This inspiration is to be available to the modern man – singular not plural – and the fact that the same effect may take place on several individuals remains insufficient to show that this is a Collective Memory type in Nietzsche. What would it mean for monumental history to be Collective Memory?

To meet our definition, it would have to mean that these inspiring histories of great individuals are not just shared by many, but that the sum is more than the parts. This does not seem impossible, at first. The myths of the great can grow in the telling. A shared monumental history might suffice to give group membership. But there is nothing here that requires anything beyond a sum over individual memories.

4.3.2 Indebtedness of Societies

Nietzsche discusses indebtedness of societies and guilt in GM II. Interestingly, this is another place in Nietzsche’s work where he closes with an opaque reference to Zarathustra. As with the reference I mentioned on p. 52, the reason seems to be that Nietzsche feels himself to be too decadent to propound the view himself. This is consistent with my claim that Z is an important work of Nietzsche’s and so we will again have to take its claims seriously, including the Doctrine of Eternal Recurrence.

The chain of Nietzsche’s argument is as follows. Guilt and bad conscience arise “in the relationship between buyer and seller, creditor and debtor.”29 This guilt must then be expiated and the debt redeemed. Then two forms of creditors are imagined who cannot be satisfied: ancestors and deities. Nietzsche writes that the debt: “requires a huge wholesale redemption, something immense as a repayment to the ‘creditor’.”30 The idea is that societies or tribes owe something unpayable to their ancestors who founded the tribe, and similarly man owes something immense to a creating deity in return for his existence. Richardson misconceives this as Collective Memory when he writes31 that “society makes a collective kind of memory” in discussing GM II.

Memory figures prominently in GM II in relation to indebtedness. As mentioned on p. 19, indebtedness produces memory and requires it. This will be Passive Memory, because it is externally imposed and inhibitory. Society or the creditor imposes it. It is inhibitory in that one of the actions which it prohibits is failing to redeem the debt, even though repayment is impossible. Thus Passive Memory becomes the locus of bad conscience and the excuse for endless self-punishment, which expresses itself in the asceticism Nietzsche objects to. It can also be Organic Memory. In GM, we have a race of Slaves being punished, which creates a memory for them. That will

2828Nietzsche UM II [1, ‘On the uses and disadvantages of history for life’, p. 68].
2929Nietzsche GM [2, II.8].
3030Nietzsche GM [2, II.19].
3131Richardson [9, p. 93].


certainly result in Organic Memory formation for the Slaves: we are just like the Mimosa which now moves when touched because it has an Organic Memory of ‘pain’ inflicted on its ancestors. If Nietzsche says that this amounts to a culture creating shared memories, then we might have to allow that he recognises Collective Memory. He does not, and everything adverted to purporting that he does can be explained by bearing in mind his concept of Organic Memory. Memory seems to be for Nietzsche only at the level of the individual, despite the fact that strictly speaking there are no individuals, since the self is illusory, as outlined on p. 19. If there is a problem for Nietzsche here, introducing Collective Memory multiplies the problem rather than solves it, but since he has told us that the drives have memory – see §2.3 – we can see the outlines of the solution.
Nietzsche writes: “[w]hen the human being considered it necessary to make a memory for himself, it never happened without blood, martyrs and sacrifices”.32 We need to be clear here that this is still Passive Memory. This might be unclear because it might seem that in this quotation, Nietzsche is speaking of an individual making a memory for himself. This is the phrasing used, but that interpretation would be inconsistent with the method described. The common link between blood, martyrs and sacrifices is that they are all public spectacles designed to impress spectators. They will be ritual public occasions organised by the authorities to shore up their authority. Thus the term ‘himself’ is not strictly speaking anaphoric. It is the case that humans are referred to in both parts of the sentence, but they are different persons. In the first case it is the authorities, and in the second, the Slaves. Thus by arranging the festivals of blood, the authorities do not make memories for themselves, but for the oppressed group that observes the punishments.

We can see that there might be grounds for commentators to speak of a Collective Memory in relation to these words. There are shared memories which are collectively imposed. However, Nietzsche gives us an indication that he means this only metaphorically, by using quotation marks around the term ‘memory’ only when he speaks of what might appear to be a group’s Collective Memory. He writes: “[t]he worse humanity’s “memory” was, the more terrible its customs have always appeared”.33 The quotation marks are an effective denial that there is any real type of Collective Memory.


I will argue that commentators are mistaken in seeing Collective Memory in Nietzsche. Often they are mistaking his references to his obscure Organic Memory type for references to Collective Memory.

32Nietzsche GM [2, II.19].
33Nietzsche GM [2, II.3].


Following on from the above, Margalit suggests34 that society owes a debt to a deity for having been created in his image. The consciousness of this debt is carried in Collective Memory, and forms the basis for morality. This line is an echo of Nietzsche’s GM claims discussed above that societies feel that they owe a debt to their founders, that there is a further debt to the deity which is unredeemable, and that the unredeemable nature of the debt provides unlimited guilt and an excuse for indefinite self-punishment via asceticism.

Once again, while this is suggestive that Nietzsche may have a concept of Collective Memory, it does not exclude that it is merely an aggregate of individual memories.
Gambino – a commentator we have already discussed in §3.1 – claims that Nietzsche recognises Collective Memory, when he writes35 “[w]hile violence was necessary to form political communities out of an undifferentiated herd, it was not sufficient to generate the Collective Memory necessary for the continued existence of a political community.” This makes two claims that we deny on our picture. It identifies the memory type that Nietzsche contends is socially imposed in GM with Collective Memory. It also asserts that the contest between Dionysos and Apollo which is the central topic of BT is resolved via Collective Memory manufacture via the inculcation of state-sponsored legitimising myths of the origins of the state. On our analysis, this is Passive Memory. It is Imposed Memory because it is not chosen by the rememberer, in accordance with the test we outlined on p. 17. It is added that myth must also be used as well as violence to create Collective Memory. Gambino further claims36 that when Nietzsche described in The Greek State the struggle and horror needed to rejuvenate memory, it is Collective Memory that he means. We may once again note that no primary reference to precisely a Collective Memory type is given and regard this as a further case of conflating acts on collectives of individual memory with individual acts on Collective Memory. This again fails the test of Collective Memory outlined on p. 62.

One indication that writers are confusing Organic Memory with Collective Memory may be seen in a discussion of Collective Memory and cultural identity, where we are told that “[a]ccording to Nietzsche, while in the world of animals genetic programmes guarantee the survival of the species, humans must find a means by which to maintain their nature consistently through generations. The solution to this problem is offered by cultural memory”.37 The reference to previous generations sounds as though the authors have seen some of Nietzsche’s words on Organic Memory which has that property. Why would cultures have any need to maintain consistency? Who would actually see to it that such a thing took place? Is it not true on the contrary

34Margalit [31, p. 72].
35Gambino [49, p. 421].
36Gambino [49, p. 423].
37Assmann and Czaplicka [57, p. 126].


that people frequently think that things were completely different – and much better – earlier during their own lifetimes, let alone generations ago. The memory type operative here is Organic Memory in accordance with the tests we outlined on p. 35. This meets test ii). – i.e. the memory is stored via experiences of events that did not take place during the lifetime of the rememberer – and so we can see that Nietzsche has his Organic Memory concept in mind here. However, commentators would not thereby be licensed to take the two further steps needed for a Collective Memory type, which would be i). Organic Memory can have cultural effects – though this may well be arguable – and ii). it is sufficient for Collective Memory that persons have the same or similar Organic Memories. As per the definition of Collective Memory on p. 62, we want to see a use of memory or its contents in which the results could not be re-described on the basis of a sum over individual memories. This does not meet that test: there is no reason why human nature cannot be made consistent over generations without all of them having Collective Memory; in fact given that Nietzsche claims that just this is the function of Organic Memory, it is much more likely that it is Organic Memory that Nietzsche is referring to. There is no reason for Organic Memory to be Collective Memory.

This ‘cultural memory’ is then divided up by the authors into two types: communicative memory and objectivised culture. The former type is what people say to each other or write down about their own experiences, and will run back perhaps 100 years or more in extreme cases but usually much less.

The latter type – objectivised culture – can operate over much longer timescales because it includes any items such as books, statues, perhaps landscapes that could be seen as external stores of Collective Memory. Objectivised culture has the structure of memory, Assmann and Czaplicka suggest,38 meaning that it has the same ‘concretion of identity’ feature I mentioned on p. 60 with the story about Stuart Pearce. We may understand this by the example of the statues on Whitehall of various second world war military leaders. The culture that is objectivised in these statues says something relevant to the group identity of those who see London as their capital city. Nietzsche it is claimed has recognised that this structure dissolves in historicism.39

Assmann and Czaplicka also invoke40 Nietzsche in the context of his ‘constitution of horizons’. It is held that cultural memory forms group identity, and that Nietzsche believes that setting the limits – or constituting one’s horizon – to what is foreign to oneself arises from this accretion of identity. This would then presumably commit Nietzsche to Collective Memory but no primary citation is given to support this. While the authors are right to point out41 that Nietzsche opposes any dissolution

3838Assmann and Czaplicka [57, p. 126].
3939Assmann and Czaplicka [57, p. 126] cite UM II in support of this claim.
4040Assmann and Czaplicka [57, p. 130].
4141Assmann and Czaplicka [57, p. 132].


of these horizons through an excess of historical sense, that also does not commit him to a Collective Memory type, since nothing he writes requires more than similar memories in separate individuals.

One further common misstep seems to be that from Nietzsche’s agreed recognition of ‘social memory’ – being a memory created in individuals by society in order to make them more malleable – to a Collective Memory type. A memory created collectively need not be a Collective Memory in any meaningful sense. Lattas observes42 Nietzsche’s calls for Active Forgetfulness that I discussed on p. 22 but fails to note that collective forgetting can take place without there being any Collective Memory.

In conclusion: there is no Collective Memory type recognised by Nietzsche.

42Lattas [58, p. 261].