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FadeTheButcher
Sunday, October 5th, 2003, 06:32 AM
Heidegger on Nietzsche and Art:

"We shall now attempt a first characterization of Nietzsche's total conception of the essence of art. We will do this by exhibiting a sequence of five statements on art which provide weighty evidence.

Why is art of decisive importance for the task of grounding the principle of the new valuation? The immediate answer is found in number 797 of The Will to Power, which really ought to stand in the position of number 794: The phenomenon 'artist' is still the most perspicuous -." At first we will read no further, but consider only this statement. "The most perspicuoius," that is, what for us is most accessible in its essence, is the phenomenon "artist" - the being of an artist. With this being, the artist, Being lights up for us most immediantly and brightly. Why? Nietzsche does not explicitly say why; yet we can easily discover the reason. To be an artist is to be able to bring something forth. But to bring forth means to establish in Being something that does not yet exist. It is as though in bringing-forth we dwelled upon the coming to be of beings and could see there with utter clarity their essence. Because it is a matter of illuminating will to power as the basic character of beings, the task must begin where what is in question shows itself most brightly. For all clarifying must proceed from what is clear to what is obscure, not the other way around.

Being an artist is a way of life. What does Nietzsche say about life in general? He calls life "the form of Being most familiar to us" (WM, 689). For him "Being" itself serves only "as a generalization of the concept 'life' (breathing), 'being besouled,' willing, effecting,' 'becoming,'" (WM, 581). "Being - we have no other way to express it than as 'living.' How then can something dead 'be'?" (WM, 582). "If the innermost essence of Being is will to power. . . " (WM, 693).

With these somewhat formula-like references we have already taken measure of the framework within which the "artist phenomenon" is to be conceived, the framework that is to be maintained throughout the coming considerations. We repeat: the being of an artist is the most perspicuous mode of life. Life is for us the most familiar form of Being. The innermost essence of Being is will to power. In the being of the artist we encounter the most perspicuous and most familiar mode of will to power. Since it is a matter of illuminating the Being of beings, meditation on art has in this regard decisive priority.

However, here Nietzsche speaks only of the "artist phenomenon," not about art. Although it is difficult to say what art "as such" is, and how it is, still it is clear that works of art too belong to the reality of art, and furthermore so do those who, as we say, "experience" such works. The artist is but one of those things that together make up the actuality of art as a whole. Certainly, but this is precisely what is decisive in Nietzsche's conception of art, that he sees it in its essential entirety in terms of the artist, this he does consciously and in explicit opposition to that conception of art which represents it in terms of those who "enjoy" and "experience" it.

This is a guiding principle of Nietzsche's teaching on art: art must be grasped in terms of creators and producers, not recipients. Nietzsche expresses it unequivocally in the following words (WM, 811): "Our aesthetics heretofore has been a woman's aesthetics, inasmuch as only the recipients of art have formulated their experiences of 'what is beautiful.' In all philosophy to date the artist is missing. . ." Philosophy of art means "aesthetics" for Nietzsche too - but masculine aesthetics, not feminine aesthetics. The question of art is the question of the artist as the productive, creative one; his experiences of what is beautiful must provide the standard.

We now go back to number 797: "The phenomenon 'artist' is still the most perspicuous - ." If we take the assertion in the guiding context of the question of will to power, with a view to the essence of art, then we derive at once two essential statements about art:

1. Art is the most perspicuous and familiar configuration of will to power;

2. Art must be grasped in terms of the artist.

And now let us read further (WM, 797): ". . .from that position to scan the basic instincts of power, of nature, etc.! Also of religion and morals!" Here Nietzsche says explicitly that with a view toward the essence of the artist and other configurations of will to power also - nature, religion, morals, and we might add, society and individual, knowledge, science, and philosophy - are to be observed. These kinds of beings hence correspond in a certain way to the being of the artist, to artistic creativity, and to being created. The remaining beings, which the artist does not expressly bring forth, have the mode of Being that corresponds to what the artist creates, the work of art. Evidence for such a thought we find in the aphorism immediantly preceding (WM, 796): "The work of art, where it appears without artist, e.g., as body, as organization (the Prussian officer corps, the Jesuit order). To what extendt the artist is only a preliminary stage. The world as a work of art that gives birth to itself - ." Here the concept of art and of the work of art is obviously extended to every ability to bring forth and to everything that is essentially brought forth. To a certain extent that also corresponds to a usage that was common until the outset of the nineteenth century. Up to that time art meant every kind of ability to bring forth. Craftsmen, statesmen, and educators, as men who brought something forth, were artists. Nature too was an artist, a female artist. At that time art did not mean the current, narrow concept, as applied to "fine art," which brings forth something beautiful in its work.

However, Nietzsche now interprets that earlier, extended usage of art, in which fine art is only one type among others, in such a way that all bringing-forth is conceived as corresponding to fine art and to the artist devoted to it. "The artist is only a preliminary stage" means the artist in the narrower sense, one who brings forth works of fine art. On that basis we can exhibit a third statement about art:

3. According to the expanded concept of artist, art is the basic occurance of all beings; to the extent that they are, beings are self-creating, created.

But we know that will to power is essentially a creating and destroying. That the basic occurrence of beings is "art" suggests nothing else than that it is will to power.

Long before Nietzsche grasps the essence of art explicitly as a configuration of will to power, in his very first writing, The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music, he sees art as the basic character of beings. Thus we can understand why during the time of this work on The Will to Power Nietzsche returns to the position he maintained on art in The Birth of Tragedy. An observation that is pertinent here is taken up into The Will to Power (WM, 853, Section IV). The final paragraph of the section reads: "Already in the Forward (i.e., to the book The Birth of Tragedy, where Richard Wagner is invited, as it were, to a dialogue, this confession of faith, this artists' gospel, appears: [b]'art as the proper task of life, art as its metaphysical activity. . .'" "Life" is not only meant in the narrow sense of human life but is identified with "world" in the Schopenhauerian sense. The statement is reminiscent of Schopenhauer, but it is already speaking against him.

Art, thought in the broadest sense as the creative, constitutes the basic character of beings. Accordingly, art in the narrower sense is that activity in which creation emerges for itself and becomes more perspicuous; it is not merely one configuration of will to power among others but the supreme configuration. Will to power becomes genuinely visible in terms of art and as art. But will to power is the ground upon which all valuation in the future is to stand. It is the principle of the new valuation, as opposed the prior one which was dominated by religion, morality, and philosophy. If will to power therefore finds its supreme configuration in art, the positing of the new relation of will to power must proceed from art. Since the new valuation is a revaluation of the prior one, however, opposition and upheaval arise from art. That is averred in The Will to Power, no. 794:

Our religion, morality, and philosophy are decadence-forms of humanity
-- The countermovement: art

According to Nietzsche's interpretation the very first principle of morality, of Christian religion, and of the philosophy determined by Plato reads as follows: This world is worth nothing; there must be a "better" world than this one, enmeshed as it is in sensuality; there must be a "true world" beyond, a supersensuous world; the world of the senses is but a world of appearances.

In such a manner this world and this life are at bottom negated. If a "yes" apparently is uttered to the world, it is ultimately only in order to deny the world all the more decisively. But Nietzsche says that the "true world" of morality is a world of lies, that the true, the supersensuous, is an error. The sensuous world - which in Platoism means the world of semblance and errancy, the realm of error - is the true world. But the sensuous, the most semblant, is the very element of art. So it is art that affirms what the supposition of the ostensibly true world denies. Nietzsche therefore says (WM, 853, section II): "Art as the single superior counterforce against all will to negation of life, art as the anti-Christian, anti-Buddhist, anti-Nihilist par excellence." With that we attain a fourth statement about the essence of art:

4. Art is the distinctive countermovement to nihilism.

The artistic creates and gives form. If the artistic constitutes metaphysical activity pure and simple, then every deed, especially the highest deed and thus the think of philosophy too, must be determined by it. The concept of philosophy may no longer be defined according to the pattern of the teacher of morality who posits another world in opposition to this presumably worthless one. Against the nihilistic philosopher of morality (Schopenhauer hovers before Nietzsche as the most recent example of this type) must be deployed the philosopher who goes counter, who emerges from a countermovement, the "artist philsopher." Such a philosopher i an artist in that he gives form to beings as a whole, beginning there where they reveal themselves, i.e., in man. It is with this thought in mind that we are to read number 795 of The Will to Power:

The artist-philosopher. Higher concept of art. Whether a man can remove himself far enough from other men, in order to give them form? (-Preliminary exercises: 1. the one who gives himself form, the hermit; 2. the artist hitherto, as the insignificant perfecter of a piece of raw material.)

Art, particularly in the narrow sense, is yes-saying to the sensuous, to semblance, to what is not "the true world," as Nietzsche says succinctly, to what is not "the truth."

In art a decision is made about what truth is, and for Nietzsche that always means true beings, i.e., beings proper. This corresponds to the necessary connection between the guiding question and the grounding question of philosophy, on the one hand, and to the question of what truth is, on the other. Art is the will to semblance as the sensuous. But concerning such will Nietzsche says (XIV, 369): "The will to semblance, to illusion, to deception, to Becoming and change is deeper, more 'metaphysical," that the will to truth, to reality, to Being." The true is meant here in Plato's sense, as being in itself, the Ideas, the supersensuous. The will to the sensuous world and to its richness is for Nietzsche, on the contrary, the will to what "metaphysics" seeks. Hence the will to the sensuous is metaphysical. That metaphysical will is actual in art.

Nietzsche says (XIV, 368):

Very early in my life I took the question of the relation of art to truth seriously: even now I stand in holy dread in the face of this discordance. My first book was devoted to it. The Birth of Tragedy believes in art on the background of another belief - that it is not possible to live with truth, that the "will to truth" is already a symptom of degeneration.

This statement sounds perverse. But it loses its foreignness, though not its importance, as soon as we read it in the right way. "Will to truth" in the sense of Plato and Christianity, the will to supersensuousness, to our present world, precisely the one in which art is at home. Because this world is the genuinely real and only true world, Nietzsche can declare with respect to the relation of art and truth that "art is worth more than truth" (WM, 853, section IV) That is to say, the sensuous stands in a higher place and is more genuinely that the supersensuous.

In that regard Nietzsche says, "We have art in order not to perish from the truth" (WM, 822). Again "truth" means the "true world" of the supersensuous, which conceals in itself the danger that life may perish, "life" in Nietzsche's sense always meaning "life which is on the ascent." The supersensuous lures life away from invigorating sensuality, drains life's forces, weakens it. When we aim at the supersensuous, submission, capitualition, pity, mortification, and abasement become positive "virtues." "The simpletons of this world," the abject, the wretched, become "children of God." They are the true beings. It is the lowly ones who belong "up above" and who are to say what is "lofty," that is, what reaches their own height. For them all creative heightening and all pride in self-subsistent life amount to rebellion, delusion, and sin. But we have art so that we do not perish from such supersensuous "truth," so that the supersensuous does not vitiate life to the point of general debility and ultimate collapse. With regard to the essential relation of art and truth yet another statement about art, the final one in our series, results:

5. Art is worth more than "the truth."

Let us review the preceding statements:


1. Art is the most perspicuous and familiar configuration of will to power;

2. Art must be grasped in terms of the artist.

3. According to the expanded concept of artist, art is the basic occurance of all beings; to the extent that they are, beings are self-creating, created.

4. Art is the distinctive countermovement to nihilism.

At the instigation of the five statements on art, we should now recall an utterance of Nietzsche's on the same subject cited earlier ". . .we find it to be the greatest stimulans of life -" (WM, 808). Earlier the statement served only as an example of Nietzsche's procedure of reversal (in this case the reversal of Schopenhauer's sedative). Now we must grasp the statement in terms of its most proper context. One the basis of all the intervening material we can easily see that this definition of art as the stimulant of life means nothing else than that art is a configuration of will to power. For a 'stimulant' is what propels and advances, what lifts a thing beyond itself; it is increase of power and thus power pure and simple, which is to say, will to power. Hence we cannot merely appened to life the five previous statements the one about art as the greatest stimulant of life. On the contrary, it is Nietzsche's major statement on art. Those five statements enlarge upon it.

On the cursory view, we are already at the end of our task. We were to indicate art as a configuration of will to power. Such is Nietzsche's intention. But with a view to Nietzsche we are searching for something else. We are asking, first, what does this conception of art achieve for the essential definition of will to power and thereby for that of beings as a whole? We can come to know only if beforehand we ask, second, what is the significance of this interpretation for our knowledge of art and for our position with respect to it?"

Martin Heidegger, Nietzsche, Volume 1: The Will to Power as Art (Pfullingen, 1961), pp. 69-76

Heidegger: Nietzsche (http://webpages.ursinus.edu/rrichter/heidegger1.html)