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Easter Term 2019
Characterisation of Nietzsche
Historiography of Nietzschean studies
● Walter Kaufmann's Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist and Antichrist (1950) revived the reputation of Nietzsche, but the price paid is that he denied him of any interest in politics: 'that the leitmotif Nietzsche's life and thought [was] the theme of the antipolitical individual who seeks self-perfection far from the modern world'. Both Ansell-Pearson and Drochon hold this view.
● Bernard Williams, Alexander Nehamas and Brian Leiter are all influenced by his interpretation of
○ Williams (in Shame and Necessity): 'he did not move to any view that offered a coherent politics. He himself provides no way of relating his ethical and psychological insights to an intelligible account of modern society'
○ Williams (in the unpublished) 'There are Many Kinds of Eyes': 'he had some political opinions, of an aristocratic character…he had not the faintest idea of the nature of a modern state. His general political conceptions, such as they were, were largely drawn from the ancient world and were not so much reactionary as archaic'
○ Leiter: Nietzsche is an 'esoteric moralist'
● It is recently that studies of Nietzsche as a political thinker have emerged. Tracy B. Strong
(1996) is very sceptical of the different (mis)appropriations of Nietzsche. 'He is available, it seems, to everyone...Yet if everything is living, everything about Nietzsche also seems fragile.'
Political understanding of Nietzsche:
● Ansell Pearson (2014): 'Nietzsche is a thinker preoccupied with the fate of politics in the modern world' and questions what it is to be human. From his preoccupation with the moral malaise in modern culture in the Birth of Tragedy, one can realise that Nietzsche is a 'political thinker first and foremost'
● Hugo Drochon (2016): Nietzsche offered a highly intelligible account of politics by relating his cultural and psychological insights into how power should be organised in the modern state.
Although he is first and foremost a write about culture, there is no separation between culture and politics for him.
● Dombowsky: a critique of the Christian morality is necessarily a critique of politics because of
'the fatality that has crept out of Christianity...into politics' (AC)
Anti-political understanding of Nietzsche
● Jurgen Habermas: accuses Nietzsche of romantic aesthetic nostalgia. He takes no heed of modernity and suffers from anachronism. He appears to make political action impossible. Strong thinks this critique is misplaced. Nietzsche disparages not politics but modernity. Nietzsche looks to the Greeks not to recreate their lives but to learn from them how society can persist.
● Tracy B. Strong (1996):
○ Nietzsche obviously said things that matter politically, but his complex political thoughts are not of particular philosophical importance. E.g. democracy and herd mentality, and the lack of genuine political leaders in the modern political world. Famously in his last letter, written to Jakob Burckhardt, he proclaimed that that he was having Kaiser
Wilhelm, Bismarck, and all the anti-Semites shot.
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But undeniably, his political writings are more impoverished than his writings on other subjects e.g. morality, knowledge, social institutions etc.
○ Nietzsche wrote his books intending for readers to appropriate them, to read them in whatever way readers want to make of them.
■ Examples of traditions that appropriated Nietzsche: those who read him in
Europe shortly after the onset of his insanity included Social Democrat Kurt
Eisner. Those in 1960s and 70s found him a voice for liberation and for dismantling the moral and social structured disguised structures of dominations,
just as they were drawn to other cultural critics such as Marx and Freud. Claimed also by those on the political right, incl French and American conservatism, and most prominently the Nazis.
■ To understand this, Strong argues that one must understand Nietzsche's works as Greek tragedy. Each of Nietzsche's texts works in two ways on its readers:
the Apollonian way, letting the readers to find themselves in it, and the Dionysian way, let them find a way to subverse that identity. It seems that this kind of books cannot be written about politics. Nietzsche does not think that politics is capable of not only relying exclusively on the Apollonian.
○ However, the danger of appropriation is that if a text is appropriated, it 'no longer troubles me...It gives me assurance, perhaps in the way that Scripture for some gave assurance when it had been assimilated. Such assurance, such once-and-for-all-ness must always be wrong, because it claims to be always right; and assurance, Nietzsche knew, is the basis of domination.'
Thomas Brobjer (1998):
○ He referred to himself as 'untimely' and in the second Untimely Meditation he claimed that 'all modern philosophizing is political' and this was something he wanted to avoid.
○ He told his free spirits: 'You should have no interest in politics' (KSA)
○ When one attempts to understand why he was critical of political ideology such as democracy and socialism, one is forced to leave the political realm.
○ The closest thing he has to a political vision of society is Manu's caste society. In The
Antichrist and the chapter 'The "Improvers" of Mankind' in Twilight of the Idols, Nietzsche describes Manu's society with much apparent appreciation.
■ 'The order of castes, the supreme, the dominating law, is only the sanctioning of a natural order' (AC)
■ 'How paltry the 'New Testament' is compared with Manu, how ill it smells!'
○ However, Nietzsche still does not wholly agree with it. The Manu society does not bring anything new--it does not create. It merely preserves.
■ In another section in AC, he clearly places Rome higher than Manu and claims that the Roman Empire constitute 'the most grandiose form of organisation'
● 'There might even be puritanical fanatics of conscience who would rather lie dying on an assured nothing than an uncertain something. But this is nihilism, and symptomatic of a desperate soul in a state of deadly exhaustion' (BGE)
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Hugo Drochon (2016): Nietzsche learnt two things primarily from the Greeks:
● a slave class is indispensable for culture
● it is only from a healthy culture can genuine philosophers appear. The Greeks were also the first to produce philosophers. He developed this thought in 'Philosophy in the Tragic Age of the
Greeks' in 1873. It was in there he claimed that Greek philosophy worked towards the 'healing and purification of the whole.'
○ note that he thought a healthy culture can exist without philosophy (like the Romans),
but if philosophy takes root in an unhealthy culture a disaster will be resulted.
The Greek State (1871-72) in 'Five Prefaces to Five Unwritten Books'
● Ansell-Pearson (1994) compares Nietzsche's early political thinking to that of Rousseau and
Hegel, both of whom hope to regenerate a sense of Greek political life that places the individual as part of an organic whole, in a society marked by atomised individualism.
○ the Greeks looked onto both work and slavery as disgrace, but at the same time necessity. They are 'conditions required for the actual goal'.
○ 'Dignity of work' is an illusion. 'Work is a disgrace because existence has no inherent value'. While men still fight for 'sheer survival', it is impossible for them to be artists.
○ 'slavery belongs to the essence of a culture'
○ the problem with the modern men is the 'excessive sensitivity', 'If it were true that the
Greeks were ruined because they kept slaves, the opposite is even more certain, that we will be destroyed because we fail to keep slaves'
● The state
○ origin of state: 'conqueror with the iron hand'
■ he rejects the social contract theory. He agrees with Hobbes that the state of nature is one of never-ending warfare, but the state originates from a 'conqueror with the iron hand…[who] suddenly, violently and bloodily' takes control of the population. It emerges from 'an act of violence'. His rejection of the social contract goes hand in hand with his affirmation of slavery.
■ this theory about the origin of the state is repeated in GM: the state is 'some pack of blond beasts of prey, a conqueror and master race…unscrupulously lays its dreadful paws on the populace'
○ the subjected are not bothered about the origin of the state. Rather, they look on the
'magic of the developing state' with amazement.
○ The state is justified because it opens up the space in which culture and genius can flourish. The distinguished class can spend its energy on artistic pursuits instead of defending oneself. The state is essential to the creation of arts. There is a certain
'mysterious connection' between 'the state and art, political greed and artistic creation,
battlefield and work of art'. Without the state, society is unable to grow beyond the family sphere. 'The state appears before it proudly and calmly: leading the magnificently blossoming woman, Greek society, by the hand'
■ For Nietzsche, true dignity is 'being acknowledged as worthy to be a means for genius'
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Plato's perfect state places the genius of wisdom and knowledge at the top. Despite excluding the artists entirely from his state (an influence from Socrates), in his state lies the 'secret study of the connection between state and genius'
■ The two interrelated justifications for the state — genius and culture — come together in the figure of the first genius, namely the military genius--'the blond beasts of prey'. Without war, the state is under the peril of falling into 'money matters'
○ However, the Greek State is not to last. People will begin to see the state for what it is (a product of domination) and selfishly start to view the state as a means for their own purposes---> modern state and democracy.
Drochon argues for the continuation of GSt in the second theory of GM. The 'conqueror with iron fist' in GSt equates to the 'blond beasts of prey' in GM. GM therefore reinforces the theory of the origin of the state in GSt.
Martin A. Ruehl (2004): The Greek State (written simultaneously as The Birth of Tragedy) is not only a political text that marked Nietzsche's early departure in political views (Drochon agrees), but a text that's highly consistent with Nietzsche's later work.
● traditionally explained by Nietzsche's disillusionment with Bayreuth at the Ring rehearsals in
1876. But in general he was eager to break from the tutelage of Wagner. Ruehl thinks it is more than that. There is an important political element to it.
● (1) Nietzsche advocates for the necessity of a slave class. It is the 'deep fertile soil for the development of art' (KSA) On the other hand, Wagner sees direct democracy as responsible for the cultural and moral perfection of ancient Greece. Like the young Hegel, Wagner saw Greek tragedy as a democratic institution. Slavery to him is a flaw. The division between free men and slaves was the reason for the decline of Athens. Nietzsche glorified Sparta and its military ethos. He believed the marvel of the Greek state lied in strict social segregation and the preservation of competitive instincts within the population.
○ his reflection on the Greek polis was in the beginning contained in a section called 'The
Origin and Aim of Tragedy' in the early drafts of The Birth, but it is likely it was excluded after discussions with Wagner.
○ Drochon (2017) argues that their division over slavery is intrinsically linked to their disagreement over the origin of state. In Wagner's On State and Religion, he subscribed to the tradition of social contract theory, whereas Nietzsche believed that a hierarchy was natural with the original conqueror.
● (2) Nietzsche is critical of socialism. He denounced the egalitarian ideas of the French
Enlightenment and the French Revolution in the reek State. He believed the socialists were responsible for destroyed the innocence of the slaves by 'handing them the fruit of the tree of knowledge'. The episode that made the deepest mark on him was the Paris Commune of 187071. There were acts of vandalism—the Communards had set the Louvre on fire. Nietzsche called it 'earthquakes of culture.'
○ on the other hand, Wagner ascribes to the Rousseaunian notion of equality in his 'The
Artwork of the Future'
● (3) to this I add the third point: Cosima Wagner notes in her diaries that the first oral disagreement between Wagner and Nietzsche concerned the Franco-Prussian War: Nietzsche
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had expressed (as he would do in a more systematic manner in his first Untimely Meditation) his anxiety about the threat posed to culture by the new militaristic Prussian state. Wagner,
however, had grown increasingly nationalistic and supported everything related to the Prussian victory and German unification.
The main claims in GSt are all influence from Jacob Burckhardt (Swiss historian of art and culture)
○ (1) the masses are a threat to Western civilisation
■ Burckhardt believed that there was an impending proletarian revolution. Like
Burckhardt, Nietzsche opposed universal suffrage, shortening of working hours,
abolition of child labour and the broadening of humanistic education.
○ (2) the state should be a protector of culture. Burckhardt also disagrees with the social contract origin of state.
○ (3) the relationship between culture and violence
■ in Burckhardt's lectures on 'Greek Cultural History': the agonal conception of
Greek civilisation and war are stimuli for culture. IMPORTANCE OF
CONFLICTS. In 'Greek State', Nietzsche affirmed the 'mysterious connection between state and art, political greed and artistic creation, battlefield and work of art'
○ (4) the great individual
■ whereas BT is about the communal, GSt is about the single great individual. This follows Burckhard'ts chapter of 'the Development of the Individual' in his
Civilisation of the Renaissance in Italy.
The Birth of Tragedy (1872)
● In Ecce Homo ('What I Owe to the Ancients'), he declares BT is his 'first valuation of all values'.
He claimed in a letter to a confidant that BT is 'something indescribable, profound, tender,
happy'. He was 'absolutely convinced that everything has been successful, since the beginning
—that everything tends toward unity'
○ However, in 1886 in 'Attempt at a Self-Criticism', he believed BT to be 'a questionable book'. He believed the book's asceticism and romanticism reflected his pessimism regarding the prospects of a cultural regeneration in Germany. (Ansell-Pearson 1994)
● Aim of this book: the apparently narrow academic theme: to explain how Attic tragedy developed from earlier art forms in Greece and Asia minor; the broader theme: the role that Attic tragedy played as a cultural response to suffering
● Aristotle's definition of tragedy: 'Tragedy is a representation of an action that is heroic and complete and of a certain magnitude...through pity and fear it effects relief [catharsis, κάθαρσιν] ]
to these and similar emotions.' (Aristotle, Poetics)
● He believed the ancient Greeks have attained the highest form of culture. The Greek drama is the 'total artwork', the highest arm form—tragedy.
○ Nietzsche believes that the Greeks deeply felt the terror and absurdity of existence. Art is invented so that life, and the 'terrible truth' of the painfulness of existence, can be experienced as an aesthetic phenomenon. The individual life is overcome when it catches a glimpse of the eternal.
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'We may very well assume we are already images and artistic projections for the true creator of art, and that our highest dignity lies in our significance as works of art - for only as an aesthetic phenomenon is existence and the world eternally justified' (BT)
○ Why does existence need a justification? Perhaps because Silenus' wisdom is true.
Nietzsche recounts the myth of King Midas searching for the wise Silenus, a companion of Dionysus, to ask him about what is the most exciting thing about being a human.
Silenus replied with ridicule: 'The very best thing is utterly beyond your reach not to have been born, not to be, to be nothing. However, the second best thing for you is: to die soon.' (BT)
○ However, the achievement of Greek tragedy is precisely that it acknowledges that there is only one world. It is not redeemed by any 'beyond'.
Nietzsche's analysis of Attic tragedy is framed by two aesthetics categories: Apollonian and
○ Apollo: the 'shining one', provides the 'beautiful illusion' of life in the midst of a tormenting world. 'Apollo overcomes the individual's suffering by his luminous glorification of the eternity of appearance; here beauty gains victory over the suffering inherent in life; in a certain sense, a lie is told which causes pain to disappear from the features of nature.' (BT)
○ Dionysus: experience of intoxication. The Dionysian experience that arouses primordial desires and encourages people to change the reality of life are counteracted by the pleasurable illusion offered by the Apollonian.
○ Together, the Dionysian chorus confronts spectators with 'the terrors of existence'. The
Apollonian figures and their stories played out on stage give that truth a noble, beautiful form.
○ He developed the 'Apollonian' and 'Dionysian' dualism from Hölderlin's poetry. Allusions to Hölderlin's permeated his lifetime writings. Even Cosima noted the influence of the poet on Nietzsche.
Nietzsche cannot be accused of aestheticism. Art for him is not a refuge. It serves two purposes: it enables human beings to endure life in the face of the absurdity of existence.
Secondly, it acts as the stimulus of life, enabling humans to seek perpetual self-overcoming. 'It enables us to carry on living'.
○ 'A happy life is impossible: the highest that man can attain to is a heroic one'
('Schopenhauer as an Educator')
○ However, art is not associated with explicit political goals such as the promotion of a national culture. Culture can only retain its integrity through its 'untimeliness'. Art appeals not to the nations, but to individual human beings.
○ We find life justified through art. 'Having abandoned all attempts to find extrahuman justification for existence, we can find the only justification we ever shall find in our very own selves and our own creative activity' (Nussbaum 1999)
Ansell-Pearson (1994) argues that he relinquished his preoccupation with Greek arts and turn to a metaphysical interrogation of Christianity. In contrast to BT, Nietzsche's mature thinking is based on the recognition that one needs to gain a distance from one's own epoch in order to successfully overcome modernity. The philosopher needs to cultivate his/her untimeliness.
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Nietzsche sees himself as both a decadent, since he is a product of his time, and the first to try to resist his time ('Why I Am So Wise')
Nussbaum (1999): BT cannot be understood without any reference to Schopenhauer
● Nietzsche wrote BT through the lens of Schopenhauerian categories
● Schopenhauer saw art as a momentary escape from the world of particulars to the contemplation of abstract and general forms i.e. the world of willing. It is important not only because it liberates the individual subject from its suffering, but also because it promotes sympathy and other desirable social attitudes.
○ Tragedy is esp valuable because it represents all the sufferings to which human beings are prone if they live the life of will and desire. It 'produces resignation, the giving up not merely of life, but of the whole will to life itself'
○ For Schopenhauer, Euripides' Dionysus represents the will.
● How Nietzsche implicitly challenged Schopenhauer through re-engaging with the figure of
○ On one hand, Nietzsche simply took Schopenhauer Apollo-Dionysus distinction as given. Cognitive activity, dreaming, visual art, the awareness of general forms are lumped together (Apollo), and movement, sexuality, intoxication and the awareness of particularity are lumped together (Dionysus).
■ In 'Attempt at Self-Criticism', he admitted that he took the Schopenhauerian terms uncritically.
○ However, Nietzsche took both Apollo and Dionysus as will, not just Dionysus as
■ Apollonian activity is not detached and contemplative, but a response to an urgent human need to find an order in an unordered world. Through Apollo, we convince ourselves that it is really the way the world is.
○ If both Apollo and Dionysus are need-inspired, Nietzsche is also painting a picture of art very different to Schopenhauer. In the Kantian tradition, our interest in the beautiful is separate from practical interests.
■ Beauty for Nietzsche serves the needs directed towards life-affirmation, instead of life denial. Art is not for art's sake, but for life's sake.
■ This is where he breaks with Schopenhauerian pessimism, 'in the name of
'On the Uses and Disadvantages of History for Life' (1874), in Untimely Meditations, published between 1873 and 1876.
● It is significant that this was the first that was not written under the direct influence of Wagner
● Thesis: 'We want to serve history only to the extent that history serves life: for it is possible to value the study of history to such a degree that life becomes stunted and degenerate'
● History should only be studied to a certain extent, beyond that it will harm the preservation of humanity.
○ Men is distinguished from animals by the memory of the past; the animal lives unhistorically. Men look onto animals with envy because living without memory is a happy existence.
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