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  • Problem of Affective Nihilism in Nietzsche: Thinking Differently, Feeling Differently by Kaitlyn Creasy
  • Lawrence J. Hatab
Kaitlyn Creasy, The Problem of Affective Nihilism in Nietzsche: Thinking Differently, Feeling Differently
New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2020. xii + 188 pp. ISBN: 978-3-030-37132-6, 978-3-030-37135-7. Hardcover, $44.99; softcover, $29.99.

Kaitlyn Creasy has written a very fine book, in which she sets out an important question—how affect and nihilism correlate in Nietzsche’s philosophy—and provides a multifaceted and well-organized answer that pays due attention to the complexities in Nietzsche’s texts as well as to current scholarship relevant to the matters at hand. The term “affective nihilism” is not deployed by Nietzsche per se (it was coined by Ken Gemes), but it turns out to be a very useful concept for focusing and coordinating central [End Page 90] aspects of Nietzsche’s thought. In the Nachlass, Nietzsche defines nihilism as “the radical repudiation of value, meaning, and desirability” in human existence (KSA 12:2[127]), where “the highest values devaluate themselves” (KSA 12:9[35]). Following the death of God (the focal symbol for traditional aims to supersede the finitude of natural life), all stable warrants for truth and value are lost, which issues in the crisis of a looming nihilism (GS 125). Yet nihilism cannot be simply a matter of belief and cognition, which Nietzsche generally considers to be epiphenomena grounded in carnal affects, instincts, and drives; so nihilism also pertains to how life is experienced psychologically, emotionally, and conatively. That is why the notion of affective nihilism is such an apt subject of investigation, which Creasy’s text provides to great effect.

In this book, Creasy argues that nihilism is a central theme in Nietzsche’s philosophy, and it overlaps with other notions such as pessimism, decadence, and life denial—all of which are challenged by Nietzsche’s call for life affirmation. Moreover, we are told that nihilism is “a multi-faceted phenomenon with affective, cognitive, and socio-cultural components” (1) that all “intertwine” (5) as a generalized denial of any meaning or value in natural life. The first two chapters offer a general account of nihilism in Nietzsche’s thought and a survey of relevant current scholarship. Chapter 3 provides Creasy’s own treatment of nihilism, emphasizing its core meaning as life denial, especially fomented by the Christian-moral worldview and implicated in epistemic ideals of certainty and objectivity. Chapter 4 takes up the role of affect in Nietzsche’s psychology, where the affects stimulate or inhibit human drives, motivating behavior for or against them, and generally forming evaluative dispositions that precede and underlie cognition and any sense of objectivity. Also included is the effect sociocultural forces can have on affects and the role that second-order affects can have on modifying, even transforming first-order dispositions. Chapter 5 concentrates on affective nihilism, understood as a “psycho-physiological disorder” that weakens the will and blocks the pursuit of basic life interests and goals. Chapter 6 construes affective nihilism as a problem of agency, as weakness of the will specified as the suppression of life drives and the disintegration or fragmentation of the will—which can be overcome by reanimating drives and ordering them under the mastery of a single drive that will “unify the complex of drives one is by integrating and incorporating other drives into its end” (112), thus “unifying one’s will” (137). Chapter 7 distinguishes cognitive and affective nihilism, where the former need not but can get caught up [End Page 91] with the latter. Finally, chapter 8 draws from Nietzsche three strategies for overcoming affective nihilism: experimental stimulation to reanimate life drives, reflective formation of a personal narrative, and a genealogy of one’s beliefs and values to diagnose their life-denying character.

All told, Creasy’s book meets the stated goals of her text admirably. The correlation of affect and nihilism is certainly implicit in Nietzsche’s philosophy, and her explication of such does a great service, especially because for Nietzsche affect is more basic and formative than cognition, and the couplet of affective nihilism brings more life to and gets us more...


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