In his book Friedrich Nietzsche (originally published in 1992 and since reprinted several times), Volker Gerhardt makes it clear from the very beginning that Nietzsche is to be considered among the paradigmatic modern classical figures of philosophy. Nietzsche successfully becomes the symbol of his era by making his very existence a work of art. He is the one philosopher for whom pathos takes the place of proof: "The tragic, which he tried to express theoretically, is expressed immediately, in his [very] existence" (79). [End Page 138]
This happens, according to Gerhardt, because Nietzsche is pursuing the question of the meaning of life: "The question with which Nietzsche dissects all the questions of philosophy in a radically modern way, is the question of meaning. He is the first to use the [...] formula of 'meaning of life' [Sinn des Lebens] literally" (67). The question of meaning constitutes, in effect, the basic philosophical problem that dominates Nietzsche's philosophy, from its beginning through his later works' project of a "revaluation of all values" (67-75).
Having replaced the Kantian question, "What is the human?" with "Who am I?" Nietzsche directs our attention to the human as individual. He then exposits the subject-relative nature of values: Values are conceptions (Vorstellungen) that serve humanity by forming a horizon of activity (Handlungshorizont) and resist representation in terms of objective content. What alone is essential is their effectiveness. Thus, "it is nonsensical to speak of universal values in nature" (70). Not only is it impossible to determine the value of existence, it is difficult even to find meaning within existence. That is to say, if every action can be traced back to a prior purpose, then, in order not to fall into a regressus ad infinitum, one needs a final purpose. But when we ask ourselves about this final purpose, the question itself inevitably remains unanswered: "It is exactly the rationally-developed meaning of life that leads to absurdity! It is this most rational conclusion that brings Nietzsche to seek a life-fulfilling meaning—no longer in reason, but in art" (71). Gerhardt thus understands art for Nietzsche as the medium that allows humans "a successful inclusion in nature," as he explains: "In falling back on himself alone, the human in no way comes upon a rational ground, nor even upon a point of bare existence, but upon a form. [...] And only in his representative power, thus in something he himself first makes out of himself, does the individual achieve determination and meaning" (81). In this absolute self-referentiality, the individual transfigures existence into a meaningful event, into a form, conceived as the expression of all its vital force and as an aesthetic unity, in which it is able to come to full realization: as culture.
In this regard, the world and life are conceived as analogous to the work of art. Nietzsche's message, according to Gerhardt, is "art as life and life as art" (89). Whereas life, as an uninterrupted mode of process-oriented expressions of power, becomes "the elementary organization of existence in general" (87), art, taking recourse to drive, instinct, organic function, or growth, is repeatedly traced back to life processes. Art therefore becomes the organ of life. It functions as a "stimulant to life," a "catalyst for life"—as the late Nietzsche sought to express it—as the single plastic power through which the human is able, by means of his needs and intentions, to confer upon his own life a horizon of activity, of sense and value.
Nietzsche puts a stronger emphasis than any of his predecessors on the body, sensuality, and, above all, individuality. He does not simply reflect on sensuality, "rather he demonstrates what the senses accomplish as sophisticated instruments of psychological-philosophical analysis and as media of focused expression" (14). Nietzsche seizes upon the perspectival character of existence and gives expression to the embodied basis of the mind (Geist) within life, a life that only ever emerges individually.
From this position, Gerhardt presents the Übermensch as a...