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The Journal of Aesthetic Education 37.1 (2003) 90-106

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Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and the Aesthetically Sublime

Bart Vandenabeele

Much has been written on the relationship between Arthur Schopenhauer and Friedrich Nietzsche. Much remains to be said, however, concerning their respective theories of the sublime. First, I shall argue against the traditional, dialectical view of Schopenhauer's theory of the sublime that stresses the crucial role the sublime plays in bridging the wide gap between aesthetics and ethics. Although this traditional interpretation is definitely influenced by Nietzsche, I do not maintain it is exclusively Nietzschean as such. Second, I would like to offer some points of contention concerning their accounts of the feeling of the sublime. I will try and show that, although Nietzsche's account of the Apollonian and the Dionysian is highly influenced by Schopenhauer's analysis of the sublime feeling, his analysis of Dionysian intoxication cannot be taken to simply develop out of Schopenhauer's philosophy. Moreover, by way of (a not so innocent) example, it is shown that Nietzsche's philosophy of music — although highly influenced by Schopenhauer's — cannot as easily be reconciled with Schopenhauer'stheory as is commonly believed, due to their differing accounts of the nature of the feeling of the sublime.

Schopenhauer on the Feeling of the Sublime:
Pleasure and Pain

When one tries to describe the exact relationship between the aesthetic feelings of the beautiful and the sublime in the philosophy of "Nietzsche's educator," many interpretation problems arise. 2 The main problem can be compared to a similar issue in Kant: if one agrees with Kant that the theory of the sublime is "a mere appendix to our aesthetic judging," then it is possible to restrict the Kantian critique of the aesthetic appreciation to the Analytic of the judgment of taste 2 — that is, if one neglects the subtle displacements and gaps in Kant's text. In this way, as one can read in its introduction, the [End Page 90] Critique of Judgement serves as the sought-after "bridge" between the theoretical and the practical, spanning the gulf previously created between the knowledge of objects according to the conditions of possible experience and the realization of freedom under the unconditional of moral law. Moreover, if one notices that Schopenhauer too, in his aesthetics, stresses the fact that "in the main" the feeling of the sublime "is identical with the feeling of the beautiful" and "is distinguished from that of the beautiful only by the addition, namely the exaltation beyond the known hostile relation of the contemplated object to the will in general,then the option for a similar unifying and pacifying reading seems evident. 3 I shall argue that things are far more complicated and that such a "dialectical" interpretation is far from evident.

In the appendix to his The World as Will and Representation, Schopenhauer had stressed — long before Jean-François Lyotard — the enormous importance of Kant's analysis of the sublime, when he wrote that "the theory of the sublime" is "by far the most excellent thing in the Critique of Aesthetic Judgment" (WWR, I, 532). That theory, Schopenhauer says, is even "incomparably more successful than that of the beautiful" and "gives not only, as that does, the general method of investigation, but also a part of the right way to it, so much so that, although it does not provide the real solution to the problem, it nevertheless touches on it very closely" (WWR, I, 532).

According to Schopenhauer, the main difference between the sublime and the beautiful is that, while in the case of the latter,

pure knowledge has gained the upper hand without a struggle...and not even a recollection of the will remains [with the sublime] that state of pure knowing is obtained first of all by a conscious and violent tearing away from the relations of the same object to the will which are recognized as unfavorable, by a free exaltation, accompanied by consciousness, beyond the will and the knowledge related to it (WWR, I, 202).

The objects can be hostile to the human...


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