- Nietzsche on Art and Life ed. by Daniel Came
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014. x + 255 pp. isbn: 978-0-19-954596-4. Hardcover, $74.00.
"Nietzsche on art and life" is an alluring topic. As the editor of this volume, Daniel Came, puts it, art plays a central role in "the principal task [Nietzsche] set himself as a philosopher—to identify the conditions of the affirmation of life, cultural renewal, and exemplary human beings" (1). Since the precise nature of this task, and the role of art in it, is hard to pin down, a volume that promises to clarify these issues cannot fail to attract readers of Nietzsche.
The contents of Nietzsche on Art and Life largely make good on the allure of its topic. Unsurprisingly, its best contributions are those that directly engage its purported task of clarifying the role of art in Nietzsche's philosophical project. Especially notable are those of Bernard Reginster, Christopher Janaway, Ken Gemes and Chris Sykes, A. E. Denham, and Came himself. I discuss these below and then comment briefly on the remainder of the volume.
Each of the authors just mentioned focus on how art, for Nietzsche, can contribute to the affirmation of life. Affirming life is difficult, but looking to art can help. What makes affirmation difficult, for most of these authors, is brought out by Schopenhauer's pessimism. This pessimism can be described as an inference from two assumptions: first, that life is intractably and thoroughly punctuated by pain, dissatisfaction, and failure, or what we might call "Psychological Pessimism"; and, second, that pleasure and the absence of pain are the only sources of value, or "Ethical [End Page 434] Hedonism." From these assumptions Schopenhauer concludes that life is unavoidably and thoroughly disvaluable, and so not worth living. The difficulty of affirmation is to avoid this conclusion, "Ethical Pessimism," without denying what is true about Psychological Pessimism. Understanding art's contribution to this difficult task is the shared aim of these chapters, and against this backdrop several interpretive debates play out.
In his chapter, Reginster focuses on Nietzsche's claim that "affirming life is coming to see it as beautiful" (14). Reginster borrows a conception of beauty from Alexander Nehamas's Only a Promise of Happiness (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007), according to which "the judgment that something is beautiful . . . does not settle anything about one's evaluation of it," but is rather only "an inducement to deepen one's acquaintance or to continue one's engagement with it" (29). On this reading, Nietzsche sees the state of finding life beautiful as disposing one to engage it deeply despite risk but in the hopes of reward. Finding it beautiful is not yet finding it valuable in fact, but only potentially; the reward of one's engagement is uncertain. But hope of reward makes affirmation of life possible despite the reasonable expectation of disappointment and failure—despite, that is, Psychological Pessimism—and despite the fact that "the value of life cannot be estimated" (TI "Socrates" 2).
As Reginster notes, this account of affirmation resonates with his own earlier reading of will to power as the motivation to confront and overcome great challenges in one's pursuits (see The Affirmation of Life, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006). Life's struggles allow one to realize power, on that reading. So, will to power provides a non-hedonic basis for positively evaluating—or "redeeming"—life in the face of Psychological Pessimism. There is, however, a striking contrast between Reginster's two accounts. On the present reading, affirming life essentially involves the hope for reward, which seduces one to take on new and daring pursuits. On the earlier reading, it is the pursuit itself and the challenges involved, rather than their results, that make life worth living. Hope may refer to the psychological, rather than evaluative, basis of affirmation, but that attitude nonetheless seems at odds with the positive evaluation of life's struggles for their own sake. Here Reginster's earlier view seems closer to Nietzsche's.
Janaway's chapter focuses on a persistent tension in Nietzsche's writings...