Thursday, September 22, 2016

Does Nietzsche reject Truth in his "On Truth and Lie"? Definitely not.

"On Truth and Lie in an Extra Moral Sense" is a justly famous short work of Nietzsche.   It discusses the nature and value of truth in a way that is radically different from most other discussions of these topics.  The fundamental opposition of the essay is between the rational man and the intuitive man.  But to see it as favoring just one of these is problematic.  Instead, N. gives us clear reason to believe that humanity needs both types.  In a sense the essay seeks to bridge the gap between what C.P. Snow called the two cultures. However, some have seen the essay as mainly a denial of truth itself.  Such writers, for example, Maudemarie Clark in her Nietzsche on Truth and Philosophy (Cambridge, 1990), see a radical break between the truth-denying early Nietzsche and the truth affirming, even Kantian, later Nietzsche.  I will not talk about the later Nietzsche here.  Instead, I will argue against the notion that N. denies truth in this essay, either its reality or its value.  What he does, and admittedly he is sometimes confusing on this point, is to insist that much of what we consider truth is really a form of deception. However, this is not his last word on the topic. Deception, on his view, can actually be quite valuable.  More than that, it is necessary for human life, and essential to what it is to be human.  Man is essentially the deceptive as much as the rational animal, and in fact, is deceptive insofar as he is rational.  The deceptive structure of concepts and categories, deceptive because we take it to be true, to mirror the world of things-in-themselves, which it cannot, is actually immensely useful not only for action and science but also as a framework within which the the artist or creative thinker can function, and without which he or she cannot. The artist functions within that world by way of messing with it, by way of crossing categories and creating metaphors.  What Nietzsche called the columbarium, after the Roman burial building, turns out to be a set of dead things (concepts as dead metphors) that can come alive only with the right, artistic or creative or imaginative, treatment.  

Readers should think of the relationship between the rational man and the intuitive man is much like, although not the same as, the relationship between the Apollonian and the Dionysian in the Birth of Tragedy.  It is similarly a kind of marriage that involves both conflict and reconciliation.  N. speaks of their conflict, for example, when he speaks of ages in which the rational man fears intuition and the intuitive man scorns abstraction.  But there are also implicit reconciliations in the need that the intuitive man has for the very structures set up by the rational man.  You cannot creatively violate structures if they are not already constructed.  The Dionysian represents the inexpressible truth of the real world that underlies all of our experience, and it is expressible only by way of myth of the tragic play.  So too, the intuitive man cannot express what he perceives except in metaphor and image.  Note that even when the intuitive man is dominant, presumably in the classical period of ancient Greece, and has assured "art's mastery over life," it is through a kind of illusion (different from that of the rational man), one based on disregarding the very needs to which the rational man is so attentive, for example "foresight, prudence, and regularity." The point is that there is disguise on both sides, both for the rational man and for the intuitive man, the later disguising needs under or behind "illusion and beauty."  

In a culture like that of classical Greece, houses, personal style, clothes, and pottery are all invented and beautified with less regard for need than for expression of happiness.  Nietzsche, interestingly, identifies this with the Apollonian world of "Olympian cloudlessness."  So, we are not to strictly identify the Socratic or Alexandrian rational man with the Apollonian.  Actually the reverse is true since, here, the Apollonian/Olympian is identified with the man of intuition.  

Now, to be sure, the intuitive man is a different type than the rational man, and Nietzsche would certainly rather be an intuitive man than a rational man.  For example, the rational man only seeks to avoid pain whereas the intuitive man reaps "continually inflowing illumination, cheer, and redemption" while, at the same, time avoiding misfortune.  And when he does suffer he does so more intensely and frequently.  Nietzsche likens him to Thales, the ur-philosopher, who falls into a ditch when looking at the stars. The intuitive man is just not practical and does not learn from experience.  Nietzsche ends this unfinished essay with a contrast between the intuitive man and the stoical man (presumably a sub-type of the rational man). The later creates his own deception insofar as in misfortune he wears a mask "with dignified symmetrical features."  But if he were to go on he would surely say that the rational man is needed as much as the intuitive man for the further development of culture.  Also, since the intuitive man represents what he later calls the Apollonian, and the rational man represents what he later calls the Alexandrian, we should anticipate his also introducing the Dionysian man, which, of course, he does in The Birth of Tragedy.  

The essay, one might say, is more about intellect than it is about truth.  For example, at the beginning we learn that man is just another animal and that his intellect is a tool much like claws for a bear.  To put human intellect in its place is not to deny truth or to deny that truth exists, however.  For Nietzsche, the intellect deceives us in the first place by the haughtiness and self-satisfaction we get from the knowledge we have (or perhaps the "knowledge" we have).  This seems like such a great thing that man is deceived about the value of his own existence.  His evaluation of knowledge is itself self-flattering.  We think ourselves greater than other species because we have this marvelous thing called knowledge. What the intellect mainly does however (and intellect is not really to be distinguished here from "knowledge"), in its effort to preserve the individual, is to simulate, deceive, flatter, lie, cheat.... etc. So how do we make sense of the notion of the "pure urge to truth"?  That is Nietzsche's main question.  

But this question is not, in itself, a denial of truth or a claim that truth does not exist.  The trouble is with language, the main instrument of our intellect, and more particularly with language in its static, literal or, to be more dramatic, dead state. Nietzsche does not deny that there is a world that we experience or even gain knowledge of.  The problem is with our instrument, or rather with how we usually see it.  We usually see it as paradigmatically literal. And the problem isn't that literal language is without value.  It has immense value.  The value however is not contained in the notion that it is the main instrument of the search for truth.  Actually, it is metaphorical language that is the main instrument for that search. Bear in mind that, as creativity researchers have long known, only when creative thinkers break conventional boundaries and use words in non-literal ways do we have advances in knowledge. 

In reading the essay one must always keep in mind the radical distinction between real truth, or perhaps better, just Reality, and what we will call "truth."  I will refer to the former as Truth and the latter by putting "truth" with scarequotes. "Truth" consists of most of the things that are actually held to be true and which constitute, however, a kind of useful illusion.  For example, we might think that the explanation for why someone does something honest is because he has the internal quality of honesty, but in fact, "honesty" is just a useful fiction that "explains" without really explaining.  (This kind of fiction can get in the way of being a good teacher, for example when one thinks that a student plagiarizes because he is a dishonest person.  Useful falsehoods are not always useful.)  Truth is available to the intuitive man (or, rather, the intuitive aspects of ourselves and our cultures), or better, to the tragic man who combines both the Apollonian and the Dionysian.  By contrast, "truth" is the only thing available to the rational man.  Nietzsche does not deny truth.  But neither does he deny "truth," since "truth" does have value.  He simply denies that "truth" is equal to truth, i.e. the true truth. 

A nice way to understand Truth for Nietzsche is that it is like Heidegger's notion of truth as unconcealment.   

Clark worries about the common belief that "Nietzsche proves the non-existence of truth, at least of any truths accessible to humans." And yet there is nothing to worry about here since he does not deny such existence and even allows that truth is accessible to the intuitive man (and implicitly to man insofar as it is only by  working together that the rational and intuitive man can arrive at it).  Or, perhaps better, it is accessible to the Dionysian man, or even better, the tragic man.

But part of Clark's concern is whether he denies that "any of our beliefs correspond to reality."  What would Nietzsche say in response to that?  If all of our beliefs are in the form of statements made using words that are essentially dead metaphors then I doubt that he does believe that any of those correspond to reality.   Words that are living may not correspond to reality if one means by that that there is a one to one matching of sentence to fact as in "snow is white" is true if and only if snow is white.  But they could well be said to correspond to reality when they express truth via live metaphor, if by "correspond" is meant that there is a harmonious convergence between the language and that which it expresses.  

Clarke finds an "explicit denial of truth" in the famous paragraph that begins "What, then, is truth?"  Nietzsche follows the question with an answer:  it is a "mobile army of metaphors, metonyms, and anthropomorphisms" so that it is really "a sum of human relations" which have been enhanced and embellished, at first, but then, and this is important, have been used for so long that they "seem firm, canonical, and obligatory."  It is from this point that he comes to the conclusion that "truths are illusions about which one has forgotten that this is what they are."  Clearly N. is talking here not about truths but about "truths."  The rational man lives with "truths" and with the illusion that they are not dead metaphors.  Ironically the original metaphors from which they came are more true than they are.  Nietzsche speaks of "truths" as "metaphors which are worn out and without sensuous power."  This is intended to contrast with the metaphors that have not lost sensuous power,  i.e. the metaphors that give us access to true truth.  Following this, the "urge to truth" is really the urge to "truth," that is, metaphors that are "customary" and hence dead

Relying on "truths" based on dead metaphors is nothing more than lying "according to fixed conventions."  It is an unconscious lie. Clark thinks this is a denial of truth, but it is only a claim about the uses of "truth."  And it isn't even a denial of "truth" since, again, it is not denied that "truths" are immensely useful.  (One could say that Nietzsche holds a pragmatist theory of "truth" but not a pragmatist theory of Truth.  Again, his theory of Truth is more like Heidegger's.)  Clark thinks these are not really lies since to lie you have to consciously tell a falsehood, but of course one can lie by way of being in denial about something one knows deep down.  

Clark believes that N. thinks that all assertions we call truths are actually false:  but this is not true.  It is that all assertions that the rational man calls truths are false.  Only some of the assertions the intuitive man calls truths are false.  So N. is not guilty of claiming that any true assertion is also false and is not guilty of absurdity. The point is so simple, one wonders how carefully Clarke read the text.   Clark's mistake in interpreting and evaluating N.s theory is just another example of what happens when philosophy fails to recognize the centrality of aesthetics to its enterprise.  In fact, her mistake is just exemplification of over-reliance of the rational man, and no real recognition of the intuitive man, or the way in which they two inter-relate, all of which is pretty typical of contemporary professional philosophy.

Thinking about a friend's comments on this piece I want to make clear that I am not coming here from a position of dualism.  My thought is that in order to even talk about deception you have to believe there is some truth that is being hidden by the deception.   So I do not see how N. can reject truth.  He must hold that although almost all things previously thought true are deceptions what HE is giving us is at least closer to truth.  Similarly, to know, as N. claims, that men are deceived about the value of existence one has to have knowledge of the true value of existence. When N. asks “If truth alone had been the deciding factor in the genesis of language, and if the standpoint of certainty had been decisive for designations, then how could we still dare to say "the stone is hard," as if "hard" were something otherwise familiar to us, and not merely a totally subjective stimulation!” he is saying that “the stone is hard” is both false and totally subjective.  Any claim that something is false, and N. makes such a claim, implies that one believes something else is true.  If “truth” is worn metaphors without sensuous meaning then Truth is live metaphors.  Illusion is created by language, yes, but when that language is living, and is no longer merely a matter of propositions claiming to correspondence, then truth is possible, not as revelation but as poetic truth.  Not only does N.s view of Truth overcome dualism it also overcomes subjective/objective duality.   Hence it makes sense to speak of Truth as something that happens, in Heidegger's sense.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Love: The Circle Cycle Theory, or Plato's Symposium Take 2

There has always been a close relationship between aesthetics and the theory of love, although one would not notice it by looking at any of the major aesthetics journals.  If aesthetics has a lot to do with love insofar as the object of love is often said to be so because beautiful, then perhaps there can be some fruitful interaction between the two theories.  In fact, the first great Western work on love, Plato's Symposium, is also the first great Western work on beauty.  I have posted on this previously, but will now take a somewhat different angle.  Here I will argue (let's just say it is a working hypothesis) that Plato is essentially right about love and beauty if, and I suppose this is a big if, we make one crucial modification to the theory.  Previously I have argued that one has to interpret the greater mysteries in terms of the lesser mysteries of love, and I am going to stick by that, but now I will argue that there is a fundamental rightness in the greater mysteries if, again, one makes this rather major modification.  I think, and this is purely hypothetical, that the modification can be based on Plato's view about the doctrine of recollection as it is put by Diotima when she describes the lesser mysteries.  This, by the way, will make the new theory of love on offer (1) not dualistic and (2) consistent with a Nietzschean way of seeing things, which will be much to the surprise of followers of the orthodox understanding of Plato.  So here is the theory.  The fundamental problem with the ladder of love is Diotima's (I will use her name from now on, although we have no idea whether the theory is hers, Socrates', Plato's, or something that developed through all three...for now, it doesn't matter) insistence that the lower rungs of the ladder of love need to be cast away once one has reached Beauty itself.  First, that is simply inconsistent, since just before grasping Beauty itself, on the penultimate rung of the ladder, the philosopher is viewing the vast sea of beauty, in a sense seeing beauty in all things.  This achievement cannot be consistent with dumping the beauties and the types of love he or she appreciated prior to ascending the ladder!  So my proposal is to replace the ladder of love with a circle of love, a circle that must be cycled through to gain a full appreciation of love, but in which there is no one privileged position.  (This comes out of my previously developed theory of the circle of appropriate aesthetic appreciation of nature.) The circle will be conceived as something more like a spiral, however (just to complicate things a bit) in that, although there is backward tracking or cycling back, we will not ignore the element of advancement and growth that enters into Diotima's theory.  The cycle theory will be paralleled by a circle of beauty as the object of love.  That is, whatever is said about the nature of love can be transferred over to the nature of beauty itself and vice versa.   Following Diotima (and here I will be using the Jowett translation) the ladder of love is temporal in that one begins in youth with visiting "beautiful forms" loving one such form only, if, interestingly (and I will say more about this later), one is guided correctly by one's instructor.   Beautiful thoughts are then created out of that interchange.  After that comes an awareness of the similarity between beautiful forms, including of course, beautiful bodies.  The intuition is that, once beauty of form in general is observed, the beauty in every form is perceived as "one in the same."  This, as many philosophers have observed, is problematic, since, although I am aware that in saying my beloved is beautiful I am insisting that she shares this predicate with others called beautiful, I am also aware of her unique beauty, and so here beauty is not one in the same.  I will have more to say about the concept of "same" later.  A deeper problem is that the lover will "despise and deem a small thing" the beauty of the original one loved.  The sentence is interesting since Diotima indicates that to make this move (or as a consequence of it) "he will abate his violent love of the one":  it is perhaps the violence of the original love that makes it problematic and worthy of rejection? But let's say that the love of the one other, both in body and soul, is soft and gentle?  If so, then there would be no need to reject it. Alternatively, one might want to give credit to both violent and gentle moments in the cycle of love:  I won't have anything to say about that here. My point is a question to Diotima:  why can't the lover cycle back from love of bodies and forms in general to achieve an enhanced appreciation of his or her original love and, indeed, the unique aspects of his/her beauty as well as the general aspects, or on top of them. 

Diotima continues to the next stage:  the lover moves on to appreciate the beauty of the mind, and to see this as "more honorable than the beauty of the outward form."  A revision here is needed, but not an unreasonable one.  When we love, say a wife or girlfriend, the external beauty is enhanced by recognition of internal beauty, and perhaps internal beauty is also enhanced by external beauty.  There is a cycling between the two.  Surely Diotima/Socrates/Plato could have seen that.  The beauty of the mind is only more honorable insofar as it can be artificially abstracted from the beauty of the body.  If I see a face animated in conversation and the face is seen as beautiful I cannot even separate the animated face from the physical face, and it would be absurd to say that the true face is the one at sleep or in death.  So what sense does it even make to say that the beauty of mind is "more honorable" than that of the body it animates?  Is there even a beautiful mind independent of its manifestations in the body? Diotima correctly situates this question in terms of the relation between lover and beloved in that the lover will take the virtuous soul of a beloved who is not physically beautiful and be "content to love and tend him" insofar as he will bring out thoughts which may improve him.  This very process that leads to the next stage, since these thoughts are already social insofar as they are between lover and beloved.  It is from here that we move on to a larger social stage which is that of thoughts about institutions and laws. Yet the the cycle view is relevant here too, since to speak of my beloved as having a beautiful soul is to speak of that soul in action, the most relevant action being the conversations we (she and I) have about things we value, including movies, art, poetry, literature, politics, family, nature, virtue, disapproval of vice, and of course our love itself.  Love between the lover and the beloved is nourished by their mutual love of other things, i.e. in institutions, laws, and the creative arts.  Moreover, earlier in the dialogue Diotima herself had closely associated the creative arts with the creation of institutions and laws, both as being examples of the higher pregnancy of ideas. 

Jowett's translation does not make clear whether it is the lover or the beloved who comes again to see that the beauty of the institutions and laws belong to "one family" and yet this more general appreciation of beauty can happen to both. The problem is that this is associated with her notion that "personal beauty is a trifle."  It isn't, and cannot be, since personal beauty is enhanced by this process that comes out of the shared life of the lover and beloved or out of the shared life of close friends.  

Then there is the next move up the ladder of love to "the sciences" which, of course, includes all objects of study and skill, including all of the ones that are taught in the university, and not, not only all of what we would call the sciences but also all of the arts (let's not worry about here Plato's negative attitude about the imitative arts). To see their beauty, says Diotima, means that one is not "like a servant" in only focusing on the beauty of one person or institution and serving that one person or institution like a slave.  This is a worthwhile warning and one should take into account that not all movements in the cycle of love are conducive to either autonomy or liberality.  At the same time, a cycle view which calls on the lover to always cycle back to the particular from the general with a recognition that due attention to each enhances each, leads to a fuller and more adequate account of love and also of beauty. Becoming less "narrow-minded," as Diotima encourages us to be, is not inconsistent with continuing recognition of both the physical and mental beauty of the beloved, not inconsistent with that being enhanced by way of the greater knowledge achieved in studying the sciences and a very inclusive and liberal way.  A shared love of the liberal arts is not necessarily inconsistent, and may well help form, a good marriage.

And then the next stage is "contemplating the vast sea of beauty" which is to say, I think, seeing beauty not only in officially recognized objects of beauty but in many many other places as well, in the way a flaneur does when roaming the streets of the city, or in the way John Muir did when roaming the Sierra wilds, and so we find, and here, remember, the relation between the lover and the beloved is still central, that "he [the lover] will create many fair and noble thoughts and notions in the boundless love of wisdom" since wouldn't he also be creating these thoughts and notions also in his or her friends and lovers too?  

The penultimate stage in Diotima's ladder recognizes the revelation of "a single science...of beauty everywhere" which then, Diotima calls on Socrates to understand by paying the closest attention.  So bear in mind that the student of love must follow "due order and succession."  And yet, I argue, this due order and succession should not have to require, contra Diotima, that there is no cycling through that order and no return to love of the individual or the particular thing, or even of such things of everyday life as clothes and food. 

The end of this process is perceiving "a nature of wondrous beauty" which is seen as the ultimate end or purpose of the entire project.  Yes, but the nature of wondrous beauty contains all of the things previously loved and thought to be beautiful.  At this point Diotima (we might as well say Plato here since this is Plato's theory of Forms) describes the realm that is "everlasting, not growing and decaying, or waxing and waning" and also not relative to the individual or the society.  

On one level I do not think there there is a thing of that sort to be seen in the way that we see other things, but one can speak of an aspect of something experienced as beautiful as being as if eternal and unchanging, as if non-relative.  Diotima herself used this idea when talking in the lesser mysteries about the immortality available to humans where what appears to be the same is really new and where succession preserves mortal things "not absolutely the same, but by sustitution" which she thinks "partakes of immortality." 

The cycle view can have a place for this as a "moment":  an idealist moment, one that can enhance the entire experience by informing it with something ideal insofar as it partakes of immortality in this way.  On this view "beauty absolute, separate, simple, and everlasting" is not just by itself because, after all, it is"imparted to the very-growing and perishing beautiful of all other things" and thus is related to all other things in this way, and depends on that relation for its very being. 

Diotima thinks that perceiving this beauty is "not far from the end" which is interesting since one would think that this is the end, but we will see that she herself will express something similar to the cycle view by the end of her speech (which is also the end of the speech of Socrates in the dialogue).  She then reviews the ladder of love and the proper sequence where the ascent is all "under the influence of true love."  Well yes, but is it just an ascent?  Plato himself, in the Republic, speaks of the philosopher entering back into the cave. Heraclitus has said that the path up and the path down are the same, a similar point.  The modification I propose is to be carried out here.  Diotima speaks of the true order as beginning "from the beauties of earth and" mounting upwards "for the sake of that other beauty."  But isn't the mounting to that other beauty also equally for the sake of the beauties of the earth? i.e. for their enhancement as well?  The sequence she describes here is from forms to practices to notions to absolute beauty, but I have argued that it is also one in which forms are only what they are because of their relation to practices and practices are only what they are because of their dynamic relations with forms, and both are only what they are because of their relations to notions, and notions are only what they are because they are premised by a search for the ideal, which then in turn informs the entire cycle, and is itself given life by its relation to particular forms.  

So Diotima says that the life, above all others, that man should live is one of "contemplation of beauty absolute" which I think is true IF such contemplation is understood as mindful (in the Buddhist sense, possibly) attention to each of the stages and moments of the cycle of beauty insofar as each stage implicates all of the others: beauty absolute just is the possibility of this achievement, it is an ideal that cycling through the circle of love strives to achieve, an not an actual describable thing.  

Thus Diotima in the end gets it all wrong when she thinks appreciation of beauty absolute is "not to be after the measure of gold, and garments, and fair boys and youths, whose presence now entrances you [the young Socrates]":  rather it is being after these things in the course of life's going on through stages as richer and deeper in meaning on each swing through the cycle.  The great poets have always seen this, and yet Diotima somehow misses it (Nietzsche was somewhat right about Socrates' incapacity to grasp the Dionysian here).  It isn't just a choice, as Diotima holds, between seeing and conversing with boys with which one is so obsessed as not to eat or drink and the alternative of just contemplating an absolute beauty unrelated to that experience or anything else.  If beauty absolute is really unrelated to that then why does Diotima demand that lovers begin at the initial stage of infatuation?  There is an inconsistency where the lack of relation depends on a deep relation, where our understanding of enchantment with beauty itself and absolute depends on our experience of, although ultimately followed by rejection of, sexual enchantment.  So all this talk of being clogged with "the pollutions of mortality" is a mistake, as Nietzsche and Dewey would have observed.  

Ironically, Diotima herself recognizes a kind of cycle at play here since she concludes that in beholding true beauty "with the eye of the mind" one will be able to "bring forth, not images of beauty, but realities" which means bringing forth and nurturing true virtue and which also means becoming immortal "if mortal man may" a reference which takes us back to her theory of human immortality based on similarity and substitution, not on the sameness only available to the gods: again, the lesser mysteries, especially the passage on recollection, is key to the greater mysteries.  Indeed, let me suggest that the lesser mystery just is the truth of the cycle theory:  recollection is rebirth through substitution, a cycle of rebirth where we constantly recreate ourselves and thus achieve whatever immortality is available to man.  

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Nietzsche Birth of Tragedy Section 9 The Genius and Sacrilege

Section 9 of the Birth of Tragedy is mainly about the value of a certain kind of sacrilege, the sacrificial sacrilege needed to achieve Dionysian wisdom, or any sort of deeper wisdom.  It is all described in terms of the ancient Greeks and their myths, in terms of battles between various groups of Gods, particularly between the Titans and the Olympians, and yet, as always, N. has in mind something more contemporary.  The significance of this section for the project of the book as a whole can be seen in the fact that the title page of the book features Prometheus unchained.  So part of the question here is the significance of Prometheus for N.  It gets pretty complicated since N. does not just identify Prometheus with the Dionysian, although the Titan is closer to that than to the Apollonian.  Ultimately Prometheus is seen as having both sides.

The significance of this for today, in N.s view, would be in terms of the price paid by the genius (whether artistic or philosophical). Such a person must violate "natural law" (or what is conceived as such) in order to achieve something real.  In this section the natural law is symbolized by, in Oedipus Rex, the rules against incest and patricide, and the violation of those rules. Quite possibly (well, quite probably) N. identifies himself both with Prometheus, as hero of Aeschylean tragedy, and Oedipus, as hero of Sophoclean tragedy.  We get here the beginnings of a critique of morality not simply of the Christian sort, but of morality itself (by which he mainly means, the conventional and traditional, especially the Alexandrian, which is really the Appolinian without the Dionysian).  

But the best way to think of this is to ponder N. the rebel academic, the violator of his philological scholarly parents.  Then you have this idea that in order to really do something, in philosophy for example, or in German culture as a whole, or perhaps for humanity itself, one must commit sacrilege (i.e. break the idols, which means, for example, taking on Kant and even Socrates), and that the consequent suffering is just part of it.  

His main thought is to get behind the dialogue and the character of the hero in tragedy, all of which is clear and precise in an Apollinian way, and get to the myth which is projected as the bright image of the hero, an image which simply stands out on the wall of the cave (read Plato's cave, but with reality not outside in the sun and the world of the Forms, but deeper inside the cave in the Schopenhauerian depths of the wisdom of Silenus) as a healing image against the background of the abyss.  The mask of the hero (on stage) has two aspects: the Apollinian and the Dionysian, the second related to the gruesome terrors of nature.  And what of the much vaunted Greek cheerfulness?  Well, if there is any it is due to this contrast, the same one that was described in terms of the Greek response to the wisdom of Silenus mentioned earlier.

It is odd that, for N., Oedipus not only suffers due to his errors and wisdom but also "spreads a magical power of blessing" that continues beyond his death, since even if the entire moral world is destroyed by his actions, he magically founds a new world on the ruins of the old.  This is a two stage process, following the two great Sophoclean plays. The cheerfulness evident in Oedipus Rex through our pleasure in the hero's solving of the mystery of the Theban plague, a cheerfulness that softens the edges of the king's personal tragedy, is heightened, infinitely says N., in Oedipus at Colonus, where the king's suffering faces an unearthly cheerfulness in which the hero's passiveness is itself the highest form of activity, and we are overcome by a "profound human joy" as a counterpart to dialectic (a clear reference again to Plato's methodology and how it does not work in regard to these deepest of questions).  

Yet, the play itself, "the poet's whole conception," is nothing but a bright healing image projected to save us from our perception of the abyss.  The question N. then raises is how Oedipus can be both the violator of custom and also solver of the riddle of the Sphinx, a riddle which represents the deepest wisdom about man.  The clue is to be found in the "popular belief" that the wise man is born from incest, i.e. he gains "prophetic and magical powers" that "break the spell of present and future," i.e. the spell of convention by way of an act of sacrilege.  He must "compel nature to surrender her secrets" by means of something unnatural.  Dionysian wisdom is the result of an "unnatural abomination" by which the hero plunges nature into destruction and then suffers his own dissolution as a result.  Wisdom of this sort, is "a crime against nature."  

And no one before N. has ever said something like that, although perhaps he is right that the Greek tragedians implied it. No one has ever associated wisdom with sacrilege.  And think about the cost N. himself will pay life for his radical questioning, for his own sacrilege.    

In short, we do not have here the death of God but rather a joyous defiance of God, something shared by Prometheus and the philosophical or artistic genius: "Man, rising to Titanic stature [Prometheus was a Titan], gains culture by his own efforts and forces the gods into an alliance with him because in his very own wisdom he holds their existence and their limitations in his hands." Man can kill the gods, or bring them alive again.  

N., as always, sees this in terms of stages.  In this case the Aeschylean tragedy poses the bold individual against the gods in decline, the two reconciled by the mediation of Moira, Fate, who stands above both men and gods.  So Aeschylus, himself audacious like Prometheus, places both God and men on the same scales (i.e. of justice), this based on the Greek capacity to use "mysteries" (generally associated with the Dionysian) to ground metaphysical thought and to counter the dominance of the Olympians.  

The Greek poet recognizes that the gods depend on him as much as he on them.  For N., the death of God is the destruction of God by the individual foretold by the myth of Prometheus creating men to overcome the gods and then suffering eternally as a result.  But, where Aeschylus ends with a story of eternal suffering, Sophocles tells a higher story that ends with "the holy man's song of triumph" a Nietzschean yes to life.  Aeschylus is Schopenhauer to Nietzsche's Sophocles.  Thus, Aeschylus's "interpretation of the myth" is one-upped by that of Sophocles.  

The artist's image again is just "a bright image of clouds and sky mirrored in a black lake of sadness" -- the abyss. Prometheus brings fire to man and this is the crucible for the ascent of culture insofar as man uses it, not as a present from heaven, but as something he has robbed from the gods.  This battle, this "irresolvable contradiction between man and god" is the origins of culture. Myth, one might say, hides, but also reveals, this contradiction.  

N. compares this idea to the idea of the Jews and Christians (he calls it Semitic myth), the idea of sin whereby, in his view, various feminine qualities give rise to evil.  The Aryan (by which he means Greek and German) idea of "active sin" as Promethean virtue provides the "ethical basis" for Greek tragedy:  in this case human evil is justified, along with guilt and resultant suffering.  (I think "evil" for N. mainly means not cruel acts against others but violations of conventional limits based on systematic application of a skeptical methodology.)

So, at the heart of things, there is a contradiction between the divine and the human, each having right on its side as an individual, but suffering nonetheless, the individual hero trying to transcend his individuation to become, in a Schopenhauerian way, "one world being."  

Not important to me is N.s identification of sacrilege with the Aryan and the masculine and sin with the Semitic and feminine, but simply the idea that the "titanically striving individual" is no follower of Apollo since Apollo draws boundaries by way of his Socratic, and ultimately Alexandrian, demand for self-knowledge and moderation, i.e. self-knowledge only by way of moderation and limitation, i.e. logical tidiness.  This is the scholarly ideal too: philosopher as definer in terms of necessary and sufficient conditions, for example. 

Nietzsche then combines the Titanic and the Dionysian: "The Titanic impulse to become, as it were, the Atlas [brother of Prometheus] for all individuals, carrying them on a broad back, higher and higher [as Zarathustra does for his friends?], farther and farther, is what the Promethean and the Dionysian have in common."  So, Prometheus "is a Dionysian mask" and the demand for justice is just his Apollinian side.  

The end of the section is a riddle that sums it up:   "All that exists is just and unjust and equally justified in both." i.e. we have moved "beyond good and evil" as N. later puts it.  N. follows this with "This is your world!  A world indeed! ---"  a quote from Faust. To say yes to your world, a wondrous world, one needs to see just and unjust as equally justified, something I cannot personally go along with.  But the idea of the necessity of sacrilege and a battle between men, allied with Titan gods, and the Olympian gods (representing what N. called the Socratic but also the tradition of Plato's Forms and all attempts as self-knowledge through logic, boxing in, limitation of sort) haunts.


Saturday, September 10, 2016

Nussbaum on how Nietzsche differed from Schopenhauer on art, and some implications for everyday aesthetics

"In the early sections of The Birth of Tragedy, Nietzsche has... while relying on Schopenhauer, subverted his views in three crucial ways: by insisting on seeing representation as a response to need; by portraying desire and the erotic as intelligent, artistic forces; and by portraying art as having a practical function. And with our references to a repudiation of resignation, and to man's joy in man, we now arrive at the fourth and most fundamental break with Schopenhauer: Nietzsche's complete rejection of the normative ethics of pessimism, in favor of a view that urges us to take joy in life, in the body, in becoming even, and especially, in face of the recognition that the world is chaotic and cruel."  Martha Nussbaum
"The Transfigurations of Intoxication: Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, and Dionysus"  Arion, Third Series, Vol. 1, No. 2 (Spring, 1991), pp. 75-111.  To see the article in a pdf, go here.

What makes everyday aesthetics possible?  Often we refer to John Dewey as the grandfather of everyday aesthetics.  But perhaps everyday aesthetics has another grandfather:  Nietzsche.  The idea of art for art's sake has long been rejected by academics, but perhaps not all of its implications, particularly those involving a radical separation of art and life.  If art is seen as something that is continuous (as Dewey would put it) with everyday life and as something which satisfies a need (as Nietzsche would put it) then the boundaries between everyday life and art begin to soften (but do not, and cannot, disappear altogether), and this is a condition for an aesthetics of everyday life, at least of the sort that I advocate. As Nussbaum also observes, there is a particular aspect of everyday life that has especially important connections to art, and that is the realm of the erotic and the sexual.  

I want to discuss this in relation to another issue.  If art is supposed to save us in a world without god, and if nausea is what results when we return to everyday life from the saving world of art (as Sartre would argue), then how is life really saved by art, since most of our lives are in the everyday?  The answer I think is found in the importation of certain attitudes towards art into the realm of the everyday, which is perhaps what N. meant when he said that, under the Dionysian, man becomes a work of art, and says elsewhere that we should shape ourselves as works of art.  One might say that the solution to the absurdity of life is the artification of life: but only if that artification is not superficial.  If we could become aware of our lives as constantly pushing into and arising out of the realm of art, integrating the two realms in a life-enhancing way, then life regains the meaning it once had when religion made sense.  

Nietzsche himself seems sometimes to have had something like this idea, and this is really brought out by Nussbaum's article.  This of course would give the aesthetics of everyday life more significance than as a relatively unimportant new subdiscipline of aesthetics.  On this view, everyday aesthetics seeks to answer one of the big questions, perhaps the biggest philosophical question of all.  

Of course the Zen Buddhist idea of mindfulness already works in this direction, and much can be learned from it.  Yet Nietzsche has something else to add, particularly because unlike Zen, his is a philosophy steeped in the Greek tradition.  In a way, applying the revamped Nietzschean version of the aesthetic attitude (one that does not see it as pure disinterestedness) to everyday life, or better yet, just to life, solves the problem of our absurd existence not by simply asking us (as Kant does) to act as if God exists, but rather to see all things, all experiences, as having a divine or spiritual aspect...a solution that comes close to pantheism or deism, but remains far enough away from theism to count as a form of atheism:  God does not exist, but the spiritual does, and it is to be found in the metaphysical aura that things can take when viewed in a certain way.    

I am filled with admiration for Nussbaum's article, which, to be honest, I only now have got around to reading.  Here are some other quotes to encourage you to read it, quotes that have a particular bearing on the points I have just made.  I think the article goes beyond mere interpretation to something like a creative re-interpretation of Nietzsche that makes more sense of him in relation to life's problems today.  That Nussbaum is a feminist is no small part of her success in this area, since it is coming from that perspective that she interprets Nietzsche in powerful ways that draw on the special interest feminists have had in the body, in anti-dualism, and in the role played by the emotions in cognition and life generally.

“In a “draft for a new preface to The Birth of Tragedy, Nietzsche explains that that work portrays the world of nature as "false, cruel, contradictory, seductive, without meaning" (WP 853). This being the case, life is made worth living, made joyful and made human, only by art, that is to say, in the largest sense, by the human being's power to create an order in the midst of disorder, to make up a meaning where nature herself does not supply one. In the creative activity (associated by Nietzsche not only with the arts narrowly under stood, but also with love, religion, ethics, science all being seen as forms of creative story-making), we find the source of what is in truth wonderful and joyful in life. And if we can learn to value that activity, and find our own meaning in it, rather than looking for an external meaning in god or in nature, we can then love ourselves, and love life.”

“Nietzsche's human being, noticing these same things about the world [that Schopenhauer did], is filled with Dionysian joy and pride in his own artistry. For if there is no intrinsic order in things, how wonderful, then and indeed, how much more wonderful  that one should have managed to invent so many beautiful stories, to forge so many daring conceptual schemes, to dance so many daring and improbable dances. The absence of a designing god leads to a heightened joy in the artistic possibilities of man.“  101

“The arts show us that we can have order and discipline and meaning and logic from within ourselves: we do not have to choose between belief in god and empty chaos.  Centuries of Christian teaching have left us with so little self-respect for our bodies and their desires that we are convinced that anything we ourselves make up must be disorderly and perhaps even evil. The arts tell us that this is not so; they enable us to take pride in ourselves, and the work of our bodies.”
“having abandoned all attempts to find extra-human justification for existence, we can find the only justification we ever shall find in our very own selves, and our own creative activity.”

“art will play in human life exactly the opposite role from the role it plays for Schopenhauer. For instead of giving the human being a clue to a way in which life might be despised and the body repudiated, it gives the human being a clue as to a way (or, indeed, many different ways) in which life might be embraced, and the body seen as a sphere of joy.”

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Nietzsche Birth of Tragedy Section 8 The Satyr as Human Archetype?

Nietzsche leads section 8 with a distinction between the idyllic shepherd often to be found in 18th century poetry and painting and the Greek satyr.  Both come from a longing "for the primitive and the natural" but only one is authentic, the other (the shepherd) is just "the flattering image of a sentimental" flute-player.  The satyr is "the archetype of man, the embodiment of his highest and most intense emotions, the ecstatic reveler enraptured by the proximity of his god" Dionysus.  

It is a puzzle however that the satyr is chosen for this role.  Our "highest and most intense emotions" are not often associated with "a symbol of the sexual omnipotence of nature."  Images of the satyr in Greek pottery show an erect penis. We can see the satyr as a representation of fertility and rebirth.  Yet we know that N. is serious about calling the satyr "archetypal" since he also refers to the satyr as disclosing "the true human nature."  The true self, for N., is something sexual, sublime and divine (a uniquely Nietzschean combination), and not whatever is offered by "the man of culture."  The man of culture and his anemic pastoral shepherd count as lying caricatures of man.  

The satyr chorus represents reality more truly than the man of culture (e.g. the college professor) does.  (I cannot help thinking here of the hippie of the 60s and of the hipster of today as attempts to capture this in lifestyle terms.)  He gives us not "a fantastic impossibility spawned by a poet's brain" but "the unvarnished expression of the truth."  So, N. distinguishes between "this real truth of nature and the lie of culture...",  the first associated with the "core of things," and the second with "the whole world of appearances":  the core is not just different from the world of appearances however but depends on it:  It "abides through the perpetual destruction of appearances."  Unlike the man of culture, the Dionysian "wants truth and nature in their most forceful form." 

The chorus in a Greek play, the satyr chorus, is an ideal spectator in the sense that it beholds "the visionary world of the scene," while the viewing public is able to "imagine, in absorbed contemplation, that he himself" is a chorist.  So the chorist is the Dionysian man contemplating himself, as if an actor visualizing his or her role.  So the satyr chorus is a vision of the Dionysian spectator, and the world on stage is a vision of the chorus.  The viewer then is no longer able to see the so-called reality around, including the world of "the man of culture."  The spectators have two aspects: they can be seen as Dionysian or they can be seen as men of culture: alternatively put, they can play either role.  Insofar as they are Dionysian they partake of the vision of the chorus and are one with the chorus.

It follows, for N., that "the poet is a poet only insofar as he sees himself surrounded by figures who live and act before him and into whose inmost nature he can see":  i.e. the poet must be like the Bacchant in being inspired by Dionysus.  This imagery is taken almost directly from Plato's Ion but with no intention of irony of the sort found in Plato. Just as the Platonic rhapsode or the good actor is out of his or her senses insofar as he/she sees himself/herself in the imaginary realm of his/her poet's heroes, so too the inspired poet, is entranced by what he/she sees on his/her internal stage. 

Similarly, N. adds that "for a genuine poet, metaphor is not a rhetorical figure but a vicarious image that he actually beholds in place of a concept." [The implication is that something important was lost when the mythological proto-concepts of the Gods became the dry goods of Platonic Ideas:  when Aphrodite goddess of beauty became merely the concept of Beauty.]  Similarly, again, the character is more than a mere collection of traits but "an obtrusively alive person" who continues to live and act, unlike a merely painted figure.  Homer is better than other poets because "he visualizes so much more vividly."  The wrong way to talk about poetry falsely abstracts from this vivid experience of the character as alive.  In short:  "let anyone have the ability to behold continually a vivid play and to live constantly surrounded by hosts of spirits, and he will be a poet."  To speak "out of other bodies" is to be a dramatist. The audience in Dionysian excitement sees itself as essentially one with the "host of spirits" i.e. with the manifestations on stage of Dionysus himself.  This is the beginning of drama:  to see oneself as transformed into another body.  The rhapsodist, then, who sees his images as "outside himself as objects of contemplation" [unlike Ion] does not understand his true role.

The audience experiences "the magic of this transformation" as a group.  Isn't it strange that N., such a fierce individualist, is fascinated by the group Dionysian experience. "Such magic transformation is the presupposition of all dramatic art."  To repeat:  "the Dionysian reveler sees himself as a satyr, and as a satyr, in turn, he sees the god," and this vision is "the Apollinian complement of his own state."  The Dionysian chorus "discharges itself in an Apollinian world of images."  However, we should not then identify this world as Apollinian.  As N. puts it, "being the objectification of a Dionysian state, [the theatrical experience] represents not Apollinian redemption through mere appearances but...the shattering of the individual and his fusion with primal being." The drama embodies Dionysian insights, and that separates it from the epic. 

All of this explains the chorus of Greek tragedy, i.e. why it is older than the action on stage, what it means that it was originally made of goatlike satyrs, and that it is "in front of the scene [i.e. the stage]."  The scene [i.e. the activity on stage] is a vision, and the chorus is the reality that generates the vision using "dance, tone, and words."  The chorus serves but does not act:  it is there to see how the god both suffers and glorifies himself.  The chorus, being a Dionysian expression of nature, pronounces "oracles and wise sayings," both sharing its suffering and its wisdom, which is to say, "the truth from the heart of the world." This explains the notion of the satyr as wise, rapturous and also as representing the simple man.

Dionysus is the real stage hero who was merely imagined as present in early tragedies but is shown as visible in later drama. At that point the chorus "was assigned the task of exciting the mood of the listeners" so that when the actor in a mask appears they do not see that but rather "a visionary figure."  They see "the approach on the stage of the god with whose sufferings [they] had already identified" and they transfer "the whole magic image of the god that was trembling before [their souls] to that masked figure.."   It is as if reality has been dissolved into a dream world of unreal spirits.  
But a dialectic occurs here between the chorus and the stage action. The stage action represents "the Apollinian state of dreams in which the world of the day becomes veiled, and a new world, clearer, more understandable, more moving than the everyday world and yet more shadowy, presents itself to our eyes..."  There are, then, two styles in each drama, the Dionysian style of the chorus and the Apollinian style of the stage.  The first is, as Goethe puts it, eternal sea, changeful strife, glowing life.  The second has "the clarity and firmness of epic form" we would find in Homer.

In response to the aesthetics of everyday life it might be said that everyday life is suspended in tragic theater (less so in comic theater), from a Nietzschean perspective.  If what N. says is true about art in general, then art happens at another level than the aesthetics of everyday life.  But this does not mean that everyday life is out the equation since, on the other hand, it can be seen as
"changeful strife and glowing life," the Apollonian merely abstracting from that, and the Dionysian, in turn, causing a kind of reverse experience in which everyday life (including its non-everyday extremes, both the extreme moments of life and the moments of suffering), becomes reintegrated by way of the redemptive force of Dionysus.  Or at least, that is an initial thought.