Nietzsche, Aesthetics, and Modernity (review)
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The Journal of Nietzsche Studies 25 (2003) 106-108

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Matthew Rampley. Nietzsche, Aesthetics, and Modernity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000. 286 pp. $59.95.

A successful analysis of Nietzsche requires (1) a mastery of Nietzsche's writings and convincing interpretations of them, which is not particularly rare in the literature, but also (2) an appreciation and loyalty to the complexities, contradictions, and explorations of Nietzsche's thinking. The latter is quite rare, and when executed can result in a text that is itself so consumed and/or inspired by textual complexity and attentiveness that it becomes unreadable. Nietzsche, Aesthetics, and Modernity by Matthew Rampley succeeds especially in presenting complex issues clearly, without becoming a test of readability. The clarity of Rampley's treatment is not the result of [End Page 106] reforming Nietzsche's nexus of issues into logical arguments that are clear yet ultimately misrepresent Nietzsche by philosophically retranslating him into what he is not: a metaphysician, a nihilist, a philosopher who attempts rational argument and fails.

Rampley's book is wide-ranging, covering many of the issues considered most significant to an understanding of Nietzsche, such as truth, time, nihilism, Wagner, power, communication, modernism, art, will to power, the eternal return, and many major figures of philosophy, especially an excellent explication of Kant's aesthetics. In fact, all of the following philosophers are considered: Plato, Schopenhauer, Schiller, Kant, Hegel, Buddha, Descartes, Foucault, Deleuze and Guttari, Derrida, de Man, Aristotle, and Benjamin. Unfortunately, although he attempts to provide adequate treatment of Nietzsche's wide philosophic range, Rampley does risk attempting too much. Here is an example:

The denial of time could be seen as standing at the origin of metaphysics, in Plato's valorization of timeless Ideas, but Nietzsche's argument is that as in so many other respects, modernity constitutes both the climax of metaphysics and the moment of its unravelling. Hence the denial of temporality is joined by its dialectical negation, a morbid fascination with decay and decline, which is produced by the sense of time as a problem, and of temporality as a succession of mutually transcending 'nows'. The path to overcoming the temporal logic of modernity lies both in an aestheticisation of historical knowledge . . . and in the model offered by certain forms of artistic praxis. (166)

In Rampley's next paragraph, he introduces an additional topic: transcendence. All this serves as an introduction to a sustained discussion of the body. Although I appreciate his attempt to balance the various issues and influences relevant to Nietzsche's treatment of the body, the introductory passage tempts disintegration by weaving in too much. And, ultimately, there is the question of how it is that consideration of the body is, although fascinating in Nietzsche, perhaps not central to a discussion of aesthetics and modernity, especially so far into the analysis. Rampley's book would have been strengthened by an interpretation that emphasized some of the issues in Nietzsche's writing over others, especially since the connection between art and modernity from the standpoint of Nietzsche's critique of metaphysics is already so dense and intriguing. Nonetheless, Rampley's critical approach remains steady: looking at Nietzsche's many and even changing views from a poststructuralist position. Philosophically, this means that Rampley assumes that Nietzsche is a founding philosopher in the critique of Western metaphysics, that Nietzsche's views are not and are not meant to be presented as arguments that are tidied up in the end, and that Nietzsche understands and appreciates the operations of language and the relationship between language and culture.

Rampley avoids misreadings of Nietzsche by emphasizing the strategy Nietzsche employs when considering some of the issues central to his philosophy. Rampley claims that Nietzsche does not establish staid positions on subjects; rather, he uses subjects to take positions based on the context of his analysis. Nietzsche's positions remain fluid and a particular meaning is teased out of a context of philosophic issues. Rampley explains this as simply an outgrowth of Nietzsche's critique of metaphysics and epistemology. Metaphysics has given us the fiction that there are stable things...