Art in Nietzsche's philosophy
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The role of art in Nietzsche's philosphy

One of the most outstanding features of Nietzsche's work is his highly elaborated and ornamental poetic prose. Frederick Nietsche was an artist above all and as artist he ought to be judged. The popular view of Nietzshe as a misanthropic nihilist is totally invalid. My endeavor shall be, then, to give evidence of Nietzsche's life-affirmation drive and optimistic approach to life; to help the reader understand some of the esthetical notions that have bearing on his theory of art; and to analyze the role art in Nietzsche's philosophical system.

For Nietzsche, Man is the source or order and structure in the universe. Man moulds the universe through language and ideas. Life itself is devoid of sense and meaning. The only meaning life may have is the one Man endows it with, therefore, Man is also the source of sense and meaning in the universe. A practical question then arises: Through what ways and means may Man bestow the world with meaning, that it will further his growth and development towards perfection? It is by virtue of artistic creativity that Man may be enabled to justify his existence, and give meaning and direction to it. It is through art that Man may find the path to self-engrandizement, to the übermench.

In Nietzsche's view, the beautiful lies in the eyes of the beholder. Man is the source and cause of beauty. Man mirrors himself on the world and reflects the beauty that resides within him upon the world. In the beautiful, Man praises and glorifies himself. For Nietzsche, the first esthetical truth (for him, the only true values are the esthetical values): "Nothing is beautiful, except for man alone: all aesthetics rests upon this naďveté." His second truth is then, "Nothing is ugly, except the degenerating man." In reference to man, Nietzsche writes: "His feeling of power, his courage, his pride - all fall with the ugly and rise with the beautiful." Hence, we can appreciate the scope that aesthetics holds in Nietzsche's philosophy: "Only as an aesthetic product can the world be justified to all eternity."

Nietzsche identifies a basic physiological condition that engenders, or makes possible, the artistic production: "If there is to be art, if there is to be any aesthetic doing and seeing, one physiological condition is indispensable: frenzy. Frenzy must first have enhanced the excitability of the whole machine; else there is no art." Nietzsche uses the term "physiological" because he denies the dichotomy of body and soul. For him the psychical state is to be found in the bodily condition proper to that specific psychical state; that is, in the corporeal-psychical unity. Thus, The constituent of this basic aesthetic state is frenzy, or rapture: that rapture engendered by sexual excitation above all - sensuality for Nietzsche is a fundamental ingredient for the aesthetic condition - or rapture reached through dance, music or narcotics. What is primordial is the increase of strength, fullness, and plenitude bestowed by rapture. It is in this state that Man's artistic will is enhanced: "In this state one enriches everything out of one's own fullness: whatever one sees, whatever wills is seen swelled, taut, strong, overloaded with strength. A man in this state transforms things until they mirror his power - until they are reflections of his perfection. This having to transform into perfection is - art."

For Nietzsche, art is not the imitation of nature, but a metaphysical complement that will enable the transcendence of nature itself. Art is the fundamental metaphysical activity of Man; art is the highest form of human activity. Nietzsche's view of art is, at the same time, the most sublime and metaphysical: "The world is a work of art that gives birth to itself."

The realm of aesthetics holds for Nietzsche a supremacy over ethics and knowledge. Hence, Nietzsche launches an attack on Schoppenhauer's and Aristotle's interpretation of art, but above all, against the Christian posture: "The purely aesthetic interpretation and justification of the world I was propounding…[sic]…placed them at the opposite role from the Christian doctrine, a doctrine entirely moral in purport, using absolute standards: God's absolute truth for example, which relegates all art to the realm of falsehood and in doing so condemns it." Here we can clearly appreciate how Nietzshe propounds a counterdoctrine of an esthetical nuance to oppose the Christian view of life. So, we arrive to the basic role of art in Nietzsche's philosophy, art as a countermovement to nihilism: "Art as the single superior counterforce against all will to negation of life, art as the anti-Christian, anti-Buddhist, anti-Nihilist par excellence."

Nietzsche states in "Twilight of the Idols": "In art man enjoys himself as perfection." Art is then the supreme delight of existence; art is the fountain and source of joy in the world par excellence. And joy for Nietzsche does not require justification because joy justifies itself; joy, too, justifies existence: through joy, life is affirmed. Thus, we reach another basic role of art: art as the supreme source of joy.

Art sustains life. Art is what makes life endurable and thus possible. Art is what make life worth living. Nietzsche depicts this through a beautiful metaphor: "Once again we may see the artistic buoyancy and creative joy as a luminous cloud shape reflected upon the dark surface of a lake of sorrow." Hence, this is another basic role of art: art as a metaphysical solace. Nietszsche, analyzing the Greek tragedy writes: "The metaphysical solace (with which, I wish to say at once, all true tragedy sends us away) that despite every phenomenal change, life is at bottom indestructibly joyful and powerful."

The function of art is one of supporting, maintaining, affirming, and enhancing life. We may, therefore, identify another one of art's roles in Nietzsche's philosophy: the role of being a stimulant to life as an expression of the will to power: "For a stimulant is what propels and advances, what lifts a thing beyond itself; it is increase of power." Art, then, may be understood as a transfigurer of existence: as an expression of the will to power in its full plenitude. In the "Birth of Tragedy", Nietzsche, referring to music (the Dionysiac aspect of art), says, " is the direct copy of the will itself, and therefore represents the metaphysical of everything physical in the world."

In order to present the last classification of the roles of art in Nietzsche's philosophy, it is necessary to comment briefly on two of Nietsche's esthetical notions, the Dionysiac and the Apollonian. Dyionysus is the god of intoxication, orgies, the forces of nature and music; Apollo is the god of individuation, illusion, form, order and the plastic arts. It is through a dialectical interplay of these two opposing - and at the same time complementary - esthetical elements that art owes its continuous evolution. Nietzsche sees in the harmonious unification of these two elements the genesis of the highest expression of art in history: the Greek tragedy. But it is in the Dyonisiac element where Nietzsche recognizes the highest esthetical symbol: "Thus the Dyonisiac element as against the Apollonian, proves itself to be the eternal and original power of art."

By virtue of the Dionysiac element in art, Man is rendered the possibility of transcending the limits of individual existence and establishing communion with the human and the natural worlds: "Not only does the bond between man and man came to be forged once more by the magic of the Dionysiac rite but nature itself, long alienated or subjugated, rises again to celebrate the reconciliation with her prodigal son, man." Through art, Man transcends the confines of his own ego and secures oneness with the universe. Clearly, it is established: the role of art as means of self-transcendence.

Art is for art's sake, that is, art justifies itself and has the quality of dispensing with a purpose - moral or rational - since only through the aesthetic production can the world be justified. "The fight against purpose in art is always a fight against the moralizing tendency in art, against its subordination to morality." Art is the great stimulus to life, so from an aesthetic viewpoint we need not to look for purpose, for art is purpose in itself: the purpose of life.

Nietzshe then questions the nature of tragedy. Does it glorify? Does it give metaphysical solace? Is it means to self-transcendence? Is it a stimulus to life? Nietzsche, analyzing the function of tragedy as art, writes, "courage and freedom of feeling before a powerful enemy, before a sublime calamity, before a problem that arouses dread - this triumphant state is what the tragic artist chooses, what he glorifies."

Art may well be said to be the bridge between Man and the superhuman, the übermench, the bridge to perfection and eternity. All nihilism in Nietzsche's philosophical system is sublimated to art as the highest metaphysical activity in Man, bestowing life with sublime meaning.

Jorge E. Bonilla


F. Nietzsche, "Twilight of the Idols": "The Portable Nietzsche" (New York: The Viking Press, 1968) 526.

Nietzsche, "Twilight of the Idols" 526.

Nietzsche, "Twilight of the Idols" 526.

F. Nietzsche, "The birth of Tragedy" (New York: Doubleday & Company: 1956) 42
Nietzshe, "Twilight of the Idols" 518.

Nietzsche, "Twilight of the Idols" 518.

Joan Stambaugh, "Nietzsche's Thought of Eternal Return" (London:The Johns Hopkins University Press, London) 82.
Nietzsche, "The Birth of Tragedy" 10.

Martin Heidegger, "Nietzsche" (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1961) 73.

Nietzsche, "Twilight of the Idols" 519

Nietzsche, "The Birth of Tragedy" 63.

Nietzsche, "The Birth of Tragedy" 50.

Heidegger 76.

Nietzsche, "The Birth of Tragedy" 99.

Nietzsche, "The Birth of Tragedy" 45.

Nietzsche, "The Birth of Tragedy" 145.

Nietzsche, "The Birth of Tragedy" 23.

Nietzsche, "Twilight of the Idols" 530.

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