JNS 45.2 Abstracts
Proceedings from the North American Nietzsche Society
This essay re-appraises some aspects of Alexander Nehamas’ Nietzsche: Life as Literature. It recognizes as strengths of the book Nehamas’ emphasis on Nietzsche’s mode of writing and his idea that unified selfhood is an exceptional state that is achieved rather than given. However, it takes issue with the claim that Nietzsche holds a superessentialist view of the self. That view is not clearly supported by textual evidence, does not follow from Nietzsche’s regarding the self as simply a sequence of experiences and actions, and is not required in order to explain the ‘all-or-nothing’ requirement of the eternal recurrence. The essay argues further that unified selfhood cannot be accounted for solely on the model of literary character, given what is now generally recognized as Nietzsche’s naturalistic psychology of drives. However, the Nietzschean self need not be viewed as immutable and is amenable to the influence of culture and consciousness in ways that may encourage a positive account of becoming a unified self.
In this article, I discuss the legacy of Alexander Nehamas’s 1985 book, Nietzsche: Life as Literature. I concentrate on his basic claim, that “Nietzsche’s model for the world, for objects, and for people turns out to be the literary text and its components; his model for our relation to the world turns out to be interpretation.” The criticisms of this notion that I raise have to do with whether this “model” accounts for the way Nietzsche understands self-knowledge and self-realization. I note as well the dangers of too aestheticized a view of Nietzsche’s enterprise.
In response to criticisms advanced by Christopher Janaway and Robert Pippin, I offer a rudimentary account of Nietzsche’s “drives.” They are not mysterious: they stand for the different sets of motives, often in conflict, with which we are all faced. The strongest among them speaks with the voice of the subject and try to get the rest to follow their lead. Such “subjugation,” whether within one or between different persons (“the will to power”), often results not in the other’s destruction but in its improvement. Moreover, no drives are immune to change. Nietzsche likens their unification, which results in one’s becoming an “individual,” to the unity of works of art. Aesthetic values being essentially social, unification depends not just on its agent but also on its reception by an audience. I end by arguing that “the eternal recurrence” forbids our imagining that our life could ever have been different in any significant respect.
Many works describe themselves as genealogies, but it is far from clear that this term picks out a single kind of historical-philosophical project. This paper examines the role historical investigation plays in Bernard Williams’ Truth and Truthfulness and contrasts it with the role for history in Nietzsche’s genealogy. Williams himself saw the philosophical approach in Truth and Truthfulness as an appropriation of Nietzsche’s historical method. However, the role of historical investigation in their respective works is in fact importantly different. Moreover, a key function for history in Nietzschean genealogy is to question assumptions that are required for history to play the role it does in Williams’ project. Considering these differences can help us understand their respective projects as well as illustrate different ways historical investigation can be integrated into philosophical reflection.
This article examines Nietzsche’s notion of monumental history in On the Uses and Disadvantages of History for Life and considers its importance for Nietzsche’s later work. In the first section, I examine the connections between monumental history and the work of Polybius, Thucydides, and Livy. Here I argue that Nietzsche takes his notion of monumental history directly from the practice of history in the ancient world. In the second section, I demonstrate that Nietzsche regards the production of illusions as the principal benefit of monumental history, while he criticizes its mendacious and conservative tendencies. Finally, I argue in the third section that the collection of characters we encounter in Nietzsche’s later works—including the free spirits and the figure of Zarathustra—ought to be understood through Nietzsche’s account of the uses and disadvantages of monumental history. These exemplary figures neither falsify nor glorify the past, but they remain illusions in the service of life.
One striking feature of GM is how it is written. Nietzsche employs a literary style that provokes his readers’ emotions. In Beyond Selflessness, Christopher Janaway argues that such a literary approach is integral to Nietzsche’s philosophical goals. Feeling the emotions Nietzsche’s style arouses is necessary for understanding the views he defends. I argue that Janaway’s position is mistaken. The evidence at our disposal fails to establish that emotion is ever necessary for cognition. However, I maintain that we do have good evidence for a slightly weaker claim. The emotionally sensitive person is epistemically better off than the cold and dispassionate person. There are some truths he or she will be more likely to believe and will have better reasons for believing. I conclude that Janaway is right to defend the philosophical importance of Nietzsche’s literary writing style. His error is simply that he overstates the case.
Nietzsche sometimes offers the elusive suggestion that his psychology is not just original, but inaugural: a “first” in the field of philosophy. This paper argues that a clue to his inaugural ambitions is discovered in his novel use of sublimation as a concept that engages in both a genealogical critique and a therapeutic reassessment of the basic prejudices of value dualism that he claims constitute the evaluative core of the Western tradition. Genealogically, sublimation provides Nietzsche with a new structure of naturalistic narrative that explains how traditionally opposed values actually share a common natural origin. Therapeutically, Nietzsche’s various sublimation narratives serve to qualify the effects of his own naturalistic critique by revealing how and why our animal bodies and drives can now be practically affirmed as a new source of human dignity.