Friday, 24 July 2009

Nietzsche, Philosophy, Art

Primary version of this post at Barry Stocker's Weblog, with Munch painting, not just the link.

Image is Edvard Munch’s painting Nietzsche (1906)

Some general points about approaching Nietzsche in relation to art, as I’m starting some work in that area. What aspects of this could there be:

The aesthetic theory in Nietzsche’s philosophy

Nietzsche’s philosophical writings as literary art

Artistic reactions to Nietzsche’s texts

What problems arise under these headings?

How do we construct a theory of art from Nietzsche’s various books unifying different comments which are expressed in ironic, provocative, playful, hyperbolic terms?

How do we see Nietzsche’s texts as both philosophical arguments and works of literature?

There is much artistic material relating to Nietzsche: Richard Strauss, Gustav Mahler, Thomas Mann, Knut Hansun, W.B. Years, Rainer Maria Rilke and so on and so on. How can we possibly unify these different reactions across different art forms?

There cannot be a final answer, but I would like to suggest a few guidelines some of which seem obvious but nevertheless have sometimes been ignored.

Nietzsche has a constant interest in the relation of art, philosophy, nature and knowledge.

The literary-rhetorical-stylistic aspect of Nietzsche’s arguments should never ever be overlooked.

The complexity and literariness of Nietszche’s philosophy should never be used as a pretext to ignore philosophical theory on Nietzsche.

Abstracting from particular texts and passages of texts is very dangerous, and it’s not a very good idea at all to ever assume that Nietzsche’s philosophical development reaches a mature ‘final’ stage with a complete theory.

There is no complete break between an earlier metaphysical-Romantic Wagner-Schopenhauer follower and a later empirical-Naturalist Boscovich-Hume follower (Roger Boscovich is an 18th Century Polish physicist mentioned with great enthusiasm by Nietzsche).

Nietzsche is at no time ‘essentially’ an aesthetic-Romantic, or naturalistic-Positivist, or psychological-Cognitivist, or social-historical figure. Elements of all of these can be found across his work.

Some of the debate about the relation between art and knowledge in Nietzsche at different stages of his work, could I believe be assisted by more attention to the Idealist and Romantic background. This may have been well covered in some German commentary, but not in a way which has affected English language commentary. Looking at the German Idealists from Kant and the brief flowering of Ironic-Romantic philosophy in Germany in the last few years of the 18th Century; art, science and nature come together. This is surely very obvious, it can be seen in Kant’s Critique of the Power of Judgement, the first part of which refers to the beautiful and the sublime and the second part of which refers to nature. Nevertheless, if much work has been done on relating this to Nietzsche it seems to have slipped my attention on the many occasions I’ve looked at Kant and Nietzsche commentary. Nietzsche may not have been a great reader of the relevant texts, but that’s not the only way of measuring influence, and there are certainly direct and indirect indications in Nietzsche’s texts of awareness of this material.

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