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.”

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