- Nietzsche, Philosophy and the Arts ed. by Salim Kemal, Ivan Gaskell, and Daniel W. Conway
The editors contend that much contemporary reflection on the relationship between philosophy and art has been shaped by Nietzsche’s “experiments with an ‘aesthetic politics’ and a politization of aesthetics.” For this reason, all contributions examine Nietzsche’s aesthetic account of the origins and ends of philosophy and the transformative power of aesthetic activity in social and personal life. They concentrate on his idea of a strictly aesthetic justification of existence. The editors argue that Nietzsche, more [End Page 686] than other philosophers, understood “art as the basic transformative impulse known to human experience,” that he replaced the traditional theoretical justification of existence with an exclusively aesthetic justification, and that he not only theorized about art, but also had artistic aspirations, and that this “dual relationship to art” accounts for his continued influence. They hope that this collection will “set out the ground for future debate” of these matters.
The volume is well organized. Grouped in three parts, four essays discuss basic aspects of Nietzsche’s idea of art as a transformative power, three his understanding of particular arts and the influence of his ideas on them, and five the connection between the transformative power of art and the values that guide our transactions in social and political matters. In Part One, E. Behler, M. Nussbaum, A. Del Caro, and R. Havas discuss the power of art in ironic distancing in passion, “Dionysian rapture,” and the justification of existence. In Part Two, S. Bann explores Nietzsche’s ideas about historical consciousness and representation in French romanticism, T. W. White examines the connection between Utopian vision and genuine truth in Klimt’s “Beethoven Frieze,” and J. Carvalho discusses “improvising without memory” in jazz as an illustration of Nietzsche’s Dionysian model for self-transformation. In Part Three, F. Jenkins compares and contrasts moral and aesthetic self-formation, H. Staten reconstructs “the common matrix of aristocratic-authoritarian and democratic-liberationist tendencies in Nietzsche’s writings,” S. Kemal develops some implications of the final rejection of the “artists’ metaphysics” that Nietzsche still defended in his annus mirabilis (1886), D. W. Conway scrutinizes the political and aesthetic roles philosophers could and should play, and C. Crawford reviews some physiological processes involved in aesthetic transformation in the arts of dance, song, laughter, etc.
Although the importance of Nietzsche in the discussion of art in our culture cannot be overestimated, one might want to quarrel with the editors’ claim that there are no other philosophers who believed as strongly as did Nietzsche that art was “the basic transformative impulse” in human experience. The same view was carefully developed by Dewey in Art as Experience and expanded in many other contributions to cover almost all areas of experience. But Nietzsche’s view of art and his idea that all human efforts need a strictly aesthetic justification still belong to the very best we have, and they deserve further discussion more than anything else in his writings.
While these essays go a long way toward explaining the transformative power of art and aesthetic justification, they ultimately do not make clear what precisely Nietzsche’s reasons were for insisting that the meaning of existence can be justified only aesthetically and not conceptually, or why he thought that human experience is a process of transfiguration, or transformation, and not one of representation or conformation. It might help to review the reasons Nietzsche initially gave for abandoning the belief that existence can be transparently organized by the received “mechanism of concepts, judgments, and inferences,” and why he rejected the principle of sufficient reason as the basis of knowledge and dismissed the idea of “correct perception.” His description of experience as the “aesthetic operation”—Verhalten, not Verhältnis, as translated—of tentatively transferring things into a delicately woven web of changing human needs and interests does not mean that Nietzsche abandoned the conceptualization of experience. [End Page 687] Rather, it shows why we must recognize conceptualization as an...