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Tuesday, 19 January 2010

A Moral Primer II: A Critique of Nietzschean Ethics

I have said in the first Moral Primer that Nietzsche's position on morality is one of virtue ethics. Here I therefore opine that his moral genealogy is not so successful in its historicist claims, but rather more successful in its affective perspectival dualism.

[The following abbreviations [in brackets] of the works of Nietzsche used in this essay will be in the text with the requisite chapter and section number, while footnotes will refer to the actual translations used which are listed in the Bibliography].
The Pre-Platonic Philosophers, 1872-6 [PPP]
Human All Too Human, 1882 [HA]
The Gay Science, 1882 [GS]
Thus Spoke Zarathustra, 1883 [TSZ]
Beyond Good and Evil, 1886 [BGE]
On the Genealogy of Morality, 1887 [GM]
The Writings of the Late Notebooks, 1885-8 [WLN]
The Twilight of the Idols, 1889 [TI]
The Antichrist, 1895 [A]

The Moral Duality

"Twofold prehistory of good and evil.
"The concept of good and evil has a twofold prehistory:
"firstly in the soul of the ruling tribes and castes ...
"Then, in the soul of the subjected, the powerless ..." [HA 45](1)

Here begins Nietzsche's challenge to the assumption underlying most religions - that of a single 'moral world order', of a 'universal good' and a 'universal evil';
"And philosophers supported the church: the lie of 'the moral world order' runs through the entire development of philosophy, even modern philosophy." [A 26](2)

Instead, to Nietzsche, there are two different moralities which are the products of masters and slaves both respectively and symbiotically; so that morality is viewed in terms of the power relations between rulers and ruled.
Nietzsche's task was how to account for a clear distinction between the two moralities, particularly as he went on to state that, while "there have been very different moralities", morality itself "is the herd-instinct in the individual." [GS 116](3)

1) 1986 pp. 36-7
2) 2005B p. 23
3) 2001 p. 115

'Good' and 'Bad'

How then can a separate morality of the 'ruling tribes' emerge from out of the gregarious drive to the herd instinct? (4)
Nietzsche will seek to solve this with the following definitive statement;

"While perusing the many subtler and cruder moral codes that have prevailed or still prevail on earth thus far, I found that ...
"two basic types were revealed and a fundamental difference leapt out at me.
"There are master moralities and slave moralities ...
"In the first case, when it is the masters who define the concept 'good' ... 'good' and 'bad' means about the same thing as 'noble' and despicable' ..."
"Slave morality is essentially a morality of utility. It is upon this hearth that the famous opposition 'good' and 'evil' originates ...
"According to slave morality, then, the evil person evokes fear; according to master morality, it is exactly the 'good' person who evokes fear and wants to evoke it, while the 'bad' person is felt to be despicable ...
"Within a slave mentality a good person must in any case be harmless."
[BGE 260](5)

In effect, the two moralities are actually radically different perspectives of the same phenomena: that of the master and slave; one seen from above - the master, and the other seen from below - the slave. The masters regard themselves as 'good' and their slaves as 'bad', while the slaves view their masters as 'evil' and themselves as 'good'. This is called by Nietzsche a 'transvaluation of values'. (6)

4) cf. Deleuze, p. 140
5) 1998A pp. 153-6
6) Diethe p. 211

Virtue Ethics

Nietzsche claims "that moral value distinctions everywhere are first attributed to people and only later and in a derivative fashion applied to actions." [BGE 260](7)
Therefore he is really making a distinction between two different classes of people more than anything else, and this puts him with the 'virtue ethics' of the ancient Greeks [cf. Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics], where "the central questions are about character: what traits of character make a good person?" (8) - and, we might add, a 'bad' person too.

This approach to ethics was eclipsed by the system of Divine Law and its secular version, the 'Moral World Order';
"With the coming of Chrsitianity a new set of ideas was introduced. The Christians like the Jews were monotheists who viewed God as a lawgiver and for them righteous living meant obedience to the divine commandment", (9) an obedience tantamount to slavishness, according to Nietzsche.

How do 'virue ethics' translate into a moral code? Of course, they cannot, as they depend purely on the type of man they are dealing with. As Nietzsche asserted in one of his last works;
"A virtue must be our invention, our most personal defence and need: in every other sense it is merely a danger." [A 11](10)

7) 1998A p. 154
8) Rachels p. 159
9) ib. p. 160
10) 2000 p. 12

Master Morality

Essentially, master morality is instinctive; it doesn't look back, it takes joy in struggle and war, it regards inequality as natural and it maintains a strict hierarchy.
The master will have a noble code amongst his equals, but behave ruthlessly towards inferiors. He does note hate, nor does he harbour grievances, as he always acts immediately. He believes that the mass of lower beings ought to serve the elite, and that high art - such as monumental architecture, [TI IX:11](11) should glorify the existence of that elite.

11) 1998B p. 12

Slave Morality

Slave morality would express a reversal of the above positions; being timid, retroactive, pacifist and egalitarian in nature. It would put compassion towards all human beings - 'the greatest happiness of the greatest number', as the Utilitarian would have it - before what it considers to be the luxury of art.
Importantly, slave morality reproaches masters on the basis of 'free will'. The slave says that the master can - and therefore ought to - do other than he does. He could be peaceful and take pity on those he otherwise despises. That he doesn't chose to do this makes him 'evil' in the eyes of the slave [hence Nietzsche's use of the word 'evil' and not 'bad' for this kind of morality].
To the master, this is ridiculous as one can only act according to the dictates of one's character, or 'become what you are'. [EH subtitle] (12)

12) 2005B p. 69

A History of Morality

 But Nietzsche is not advancing only a psychological/physiological thesis; he is also making a case for an actual historical origin and historical development of two divergent moralities. If this could be shown, then the long-held prejudice of a single moral world order would be undermined and finally done away with - allowing one to pursue one's own morality. Then Nietzsche could prove his assertion that "there is no such thing as moral phenomena, but only a moral interpretation of phenomena." [BGE 108](13)

He will enlarge on the 'twofold prehistory' in his On the Genealogy of Morality, so entitled because moralities are "descended and evolved." (14) 
Here, Nietzsche posits primordial warrior-bands who are the genealogical prototypes of his 'masters', and therefore carriers of the seeds of 'good' and 'bad';

"At the centre of all these noble races we cannot fail to see the blond beast of prey ... avidly prowling round for spoil and victory", [GM I:11](15) who "unscrupulously" lay their "dreadful paws on a populace which, though it might be vastly greater in number, is still shapeless and shifting." [GM II:17](16)
This 'populace' will be enslaved and will in turn create 'good' and 'evil'.

13) 1998A p. 64
14) Danto p. 162
15) 1994 p. 25
16) ib. p. 63

The Priest

Given this scenario, a theoretical problem arises: if the slaves are intrinsically herd-like, and dominated by master morality, how are they able to create slave morality and then to exercise it as a system?

Nietzsche finds the solution to this in the figure of the ascetic priest. The priest has power, albeit at first only secondary to the warrior masters. He has therefore a parasitic power as he serves the masters in being able to keep the herd in line with his pia fraus, or 'pious deceit'. [TI VII:5](17)
However, inevitably "the priestly caste and warrior caste confront one another in jealousy and cannot agree on the prize of war." [GM I:7](18)

The priest sees in the herd the potential for achieving victory over the masters - remembering that at this stage slave morality has yet to be created. The enslaved herd is necessarily prone to a particular emotion - that of resentment - or ressentiment, as Nietzsche always uses the French word following Dühring who did the same in his 'The Value of Life' (1865), a book that Nietzsche made a "detailed reading" of in 1875. But whereas Dühring endorsed ressentiment, Nietzsche "had come to see values based on reactive affects like ressentiment as unhealthy and harmful." (19)
As Nietzsche was to say in his Genealogy;

"The beginning of the salves' revolt in morality occurs when ressentiment itself turns creative and gives birth to values: the ressentiment of those beings who, being denied the proper response of action, compensate for it only with imaginary revenge." [GM I:10](20)

The priest unites his cunning with the aforementioned resentment, channelling the latter to use as a weapon with which to defeat the masters. The priest is the "direction-changer of ressentiment." [GM III:15](21) With the mass of the herd now behind them, the priests - "the greatest haters in world-history" [GM I:7](22) - are invincible, and are authors "of the most malignant conspiracy - the conspiracy of the sufferers against the sound and the victorious." [GM III:14](23)

Nietzsche says that this slave revolt actually occurs in history during the Roman Empire with the advent of Christianity which is described as a conspiracy invented by the Jewish priests to overthrow the noble Romans;
"A revolt which has two thousand years of history behind it and which has only been lost sight of because - it was victorious." [GM I:7] (24)
Out of "Jewish hate - the most profound and sublime hate, which creates and changes old values to new creations" came the Christian religion of so-called "love", which "grew out of that hate, as its crown, as its triumphant crown." [GM I:8](25)
Jesus of Nazareth himself was manipulated;
"Has not Israel really obtained the final goal of its sublime revenge, by the torturous paths of this 'Redeemer', for all that he might pose as Israel's adversary and Israel's destroyer?" [GM I:8](26)

And so slave morality is created and then brought to power and remains so to this day.

17) 1998B p. 36
18) 1994 p. 18
19) Small p. 106
20) 1994 p. 21
21) ib. p. 99
22) ib. p. 18
23) 2003A p. 88
24) 1994 p. 19
25) 2003A p. 17
26) ib. p. 18

A Critique of the Genealogy

This makes a gripping narrative, but there are some counter-arguments. For example, while slaves were thought of as inherently "corruptible" and "criminal" by the Roman elite (27), it is also true that apart from the celebrated Spartacus, slave revolts were quite rare in Rome, individual rebelliousness being far more common;
"Rebelliousness, however, must not be confused with notions of class solidarity among slaves, and there is no indication that resistance was fuelled by ideological programmes rooted in the desire to secure radical alteration to the structure of society." (28)

Also, at this time the Jews had long been in contact with Hellenic culture, there being "Jews who ... had two languages and two cultures, like ... the Pharisee Saul-Paul of Tarsus" (29), while "the process of Hellenisation" had "an open and direct influence" on the Jewish priesthood. (30)
The point being that there was not such a clear-cut distinction between the Classical and Judeo-Christian cultures as Nietzsche had it when he wrote;
"Rome against Judea, Judea against Rome." [GM I:16](31)

27) Bradley p. 123
28) ib. p. 130
29) Hengel p. 105
30) ib. p. 310
31) 1994 p. 34

The Poetic Truth of the Genealogy

I maintain that the force of Nietzsche's moral theory still depends largely upon its psychological - and poetic - truth, rather than on any historical verity it might have.
If we are dealing with an ethics based on character, as aforesaid, then another problem with Nietzsche's theory of master morality in particular presents itself - i.e., he typifies all morality as a 'self-overcoming' which turns 'against the instincts of life' [TI V passim.](32). So the doubt surfaces as to whether so-called master morality really is a morality, and the concept of two different types of morality therefore collapses. This ambiguity did not escape Nietzsche who often called the exemplars of 'master morality', such as himself and his Zarathustra, "immoralists". [TI V:6](33)

In the poetic treatise Thus Spoke Zarathustra, he wrote that;

A tablet of things held to be good hangs over every people.
Behold, it is a tablet of its overcomings:
behold, it is the voice of its will to power. [TSZ I:15](34)

32) 1998B
33) 2005B p. 175
34) 2005A p. 51

Morality as Power

 So we return once more to the connections made between morality and Nietzsche's theory of power, which he called the 'will to power' - morality being merely a manifestation of that power;

"The will to power is thus introduced as the will to overcome oneself." (35)

At this point "the will to power is the driving element in all life: 'Where I found a living creature, there I found the will to power' [TSZ II:'On Self-Overcoming']." (36) However, Nietzsche subsequently came to treat the concept far more widely, as if instinctively returning to the Pre-Platonic notion of an arche. [PPP VI](37)

In BGE he explains his reasoning for this step, adverting to what Danto (38)[called his 'method of parsimony';
"Assuming that nothing real is 'given' to us apart from our world of desires and passions ... may we not ... ask whether this 'given' also provides a sufficient explanation for the so-called mechanistic [or 'material'] world? ... as a world with the level of reality that our emotion has - that is, as a more rudimentary form of the world of emotions, holding everything in a powerful unity ... as a preliminary form of life?
"We are commanded to do so by the conscience of our method: we must not assume that there are several sorts of causality until we have tested the possibility that one alone will suffice ...
"Assuming, finally, that we could explain our entire instinctual life as the development and differentiation of one basic form of the will [namely the will to power, as my tenet will have it] ... then we would have the right to designate all effective energy unequivocally as: the will to power. The world as seen from the inside, the world defined and described by its 'intelligible character' - would be simply 'will to power' and that alone." [BGE 36](39)

Note that the concept of the 'will to power' is presented 'from the inside' as a hypothesis. It was only in his late notebooks of the period 1885-8 that Nietzsche tried to work out the idea as a full-blown metaphysical/ontological arche.
35) Kaufmann p. 173
36) Diethe p. 224
37) 2006 p. 27
38) Danto p. 216
39) 1998A pp. 35-6

The Will of Power

The German phrase itself, 'der Wille zur Macht', is customarily rendered - and retained here - as 'the will to power'; but this has an unwanted teleological connotation. For Nietzsche, power doesn't will anything other than itself. It overflows, overcoming all resistances regardless of what they are. Perhaps a better version in English would be 'will of power', as coined by Chatterton-Hill (40). But such ultimate concepts begin to frustrate our languages anyway, which are - as Nietzsche liked to point out - based on the erroneous subject/object model. [GM I:13](41)

However, in the security of his notebooks, he tried to express this ultimate concept;

"And do you know what 'the world' is to me? Shall I show it to you in my mirror? This world: a monster of force, without beginning, without end ... as force everywhere, as a play of forces and force-waves simultaneously one and 'many' ... this, my Dionysian world of eternal self-creating, of eternal self-destroying, this mystery world of dual delights, this is my beyond good and evil, without goal ... do you want a name for this world? ...
"This world is the will to power - and nothing besides! And you yourselves are this will to power - and nothing besides!" [WLN 38:12](42)

The world as we know it almost evaporates here, as he would write in a later notebook;
"The will to power, not a being, not a becoming, but a pathos, is the most elementary fact." [WLN 14:79](43)

40) Chatterton-Hill p. 190
41) 2003A p. 25
42) 2003B pp. 38-9
43) ib. p. 247


We return then to that inescapable aspect of Nietzsche's philosophy - that of perspective. The will to power is 'correct' as far as Nietzsche himself is concerned because "there is only a seeing from a perspective, only a 'knowing' from a perspective." [GM III:12](44)

That Nietzsche's argumentation could be seen as being trapped in the circularity of the 'Liar's Paradox' ["this statement is false"] did not thwart him - on the contrary;
"'Wisdom' as an attempt to get beyond perspectival appraisals (i.e. beyond the 'wills to power'), a principle that is disintegratory and hostile to life." [WLN 5:14](45)
Perspectivism is therefore to Nietzsche, life-affirming. And a perspective such as the will is therefore a particular interpretation;
"Such an interpreter would put to you the universality and unconditionality in all 'will to power' ...
"And given that he too is just interpreting - and you'll be eager to raise that objection, won't you? - then all the better." [BGE 22](46)

The real 'truth' in Nietzsche's theories of morality and power lay in their life-affirming quality - for him;
"The world as will to power, and more specifically as a heightened sense of will to power, is a miniature portrait of Nietzsche's life. It is described the only way he could describe it, that is, as reflected in him." (47)

And the question remains, can any philosophical 'truth claim' get beyond perspective?
That is the question to which Nietzsche's philosophy constantly pushes us towards in an exhilerating fashion.

44) 2003A p. 86
45) 2003B p. 108
46) 1998A p. 23
47) Thiele p. 34

Bradley, K. Slavery and Society at Rome, CUP 1994
Chatterton-Hill, G. The Philosophy of Nietzsche, Haskell House 1971
Danto, A. Nietzsche as Philosopher, Columbia 1965
Deleuze, G. Nietzsche and Philosophy, trans. H. Tomlinson, Athlone 1983
Diethe, C. Historical Dictionary of Nietzscheanism, Scarecrow 1999
Hengel, M. Judaism and Helenism, SCM 1974
Kaufmann, W. Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist. Meridian 1956
Nietzsche, F. ;
Human All Too Human, trans. R. Hollingdale, CUP 1986
On the Genealogy of Morality, trans. C. Diethe, CUP 1994
Beyond Good and Evil, trans. M. Faber, OUP 1998A
The Twilight of the Idols, trans. D. Large, OUP 1998B
The Antichrist, trans. A. Ludovici, Prometheus 2000
The Pre-Platonic Philosophers, trans. G. Whitlock, Illinois 2006

The Gay Science, trans. J, Nauckhoff, CUP 2001

The Genealogy of Morals, trans. H. Samuel, Dover 2003A
The Writings of the Late Notebooks, trans. K. Sturge, CUP 2003B
Thus Spoke Zarathustra, trans. G. Parkes, OUP 2005A
The Antichrist, Ecce Homo, The Twilight of the Idols, trans. J. Norman, CUP 2005B
Rachels, J. The Elements of Moral Philosophy, McGraw-Hill 1993
Small, R. Nietzsche and Ree, OUP 2005
Thiele, L. P. Friedrich Nietzsche and the Politics of the Soul, Princeton 1990

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Illumination or Illusion?

Is the artist a genuine creator or merely a copyist who narcissistically reflects reality?
With the current primacy of the hyper-reproduced image, it may appear that we have wandered into a hall of mirrors, unable to distinguish between the reflection and the thing reflected. But perhaps it has always been so; there is a strong argument to suggest that all art tends toward the condition of verisimilitude;

"When we take up a work of poetry or prose fiction we begin with that which literary critics commonly call the poetic suspension of doubt. We resolve that during our reading  we will believe that whatever the author tells us actually happened, and that we will vicariously be present when it happens and will experience the emotions that we would experience if we were physically present: when we read tales of the marvelous and praeternatural, we make a temporary act of faith and accept the world that the author has created." [Oliver]

Any public cynicism towards the arts may have been compounded by the artistic love of masks. Pound's first collection of poems was appropriately entitled Personae;- by adopting the personae of various songsters and rhymesters from the past, he sought to define his own fugitive self;

If thou hast seen my shade sans character,
If thou hast seen that mirror of all moments,
That glass to all things that o'shadow it,
Call not that mirror me, for I have slipped
Your grasp, I have eluded.
[Pound, The Flame]

Ezra Pound

So if artists are dishonest and their audience made up of willing dupes, how can art be evaluated objectively; are not those who see it as their place to critique the arts somehow charlatans by association?
Nietzsche, a philosophical lover of masks, derided Wagner for being 'an actor', with a 'talent to lie', who had brought about an "overall change of art into histrionics which is no less an expression of physiological degeneration (more precisely, a form of hystericism). 'The Lohengrin Prelude' furnished the first example, only too insidious, only too successful, of hypnotism by means of music: the actor Wagner is a tyrant; his pathos topples every taste, every resistance;- 'What is meant to have the effect of truth must not be true' - this proposition contains the whole psychology of the actor. In declining cultures, wherever the decision comes to rest with the masses, authenticity becomes superfluous, disadvantageous, a liability; only the actor still arouses great enthusiasm." [CW]

To Pound, art had been corrupted by bourgeois values. Now the artist had become a salary man, a stooge, a flunky. For this reason he made his Anglo-Saxon Seafarer jibe at the burgher's contentment, while his 'Hugh Selwyn Mauberly' presents a mordant attack on the mediocre values of the middle-class;

The age demanded an image
Of its accelerated grimace,
Something for the modern stage,
Not, at any rate, an Attic grace;
No, not certainly, the obscure reveries
Of the inward gaze;
Better mendacities
Than the Classics in paraphrase!
The 'age demanded' chiefly a mould in plaster,
Made with no loss of time,
A prose kinema, not, not assuredly, alabaster
Or the 'sculpture' of rhyme.

There is an overwhelming sense here, of the concept 'artist' having fallen from a once 'Golden age'; and that the modern 'business artist' [The phrase was one of Warhol's self-appellations] is a typical product of the 'mammon worship' that prevails in modern society. However, this conflict between the artist and society has been a part of Western culture at least since Plato, who in the Republic set this view out plainly enough;

"The things that a painter creates are not real; what he produces is not the essential Form or the Ultimate Reality, but something that resembles reality." [Book X]

And this is the charge to be laid against the arts: do they just imitate reality - and are therefore ephemeral, or even pernicious - or, to speak in their defense, do they reveal far more, making artists in Shelley's words, "the unacknowledged legislator's of the world". 

Aesthetics and Counterfeiting

The Platonic dichotomy between a (mystical) Real-World of Absolute Truth, and the world of quotidian 'appearance', has had a huge impact on the history of Western thought.
To Plato, "those who see beauty in only one area, for example the arts, are not true philosophers, because they do not see the Absolute Beauty. - Such a one is 'dreaming', for they see the image of truth, and not truth itself."

On this basis would Plato outlaw poets from his Ideal Republic. The 'Absolute Beauty' he talked of "is not itself identical with reality, but is beyond reality and superior to it." It is in fact the 'Ultimate Reality', "the Absolute Unchanging realm of knowledge;- Reality itself."

This 'realm' was given a Godly moral supremacy;

"The mind as a whole must be turned away from the world of change, until it can bear to look straight at 'Reality', which is what we call 'The Good'."

Tolstoy, concurs;
"I think that every reasonable and moral man would again decide the question as Plato decided it; let there be no art at all than continue the depraving art or simulation art, which now exists."

To Tolstoy art had "become a prostitute, always adorned, always saleable, enticing and ruinous." But unlike Plato, who had condemned art per se, he considered that 'true art' had indeed existed once, only it had since been "replaced by imitations of art. It has in course of time ceased even to be art at all, and has been replaced by counterfeits."

The terms 'simulation' and 'counterfeit' are applied repeatedly by Tolstoy [even to the art of Michelangelo, Shakespeare, Goethe, Bach and Beethoven, to name but a few!]. This is reminiscent of Baudrillard's work a century later, who felt that Western culture had gone beyond the 'imitations' castigated by Tolstoy, and had now substituted the "signs of the Real for the Real itself: the Real is no longer the Real."

He lays the fault for this at the door of Capitalism, "which was the first to feed throughout its history on the destruction of every referential, of every human goal, which shattered every ideal distinction between true and false, good and evil, in order to establish a law of equivalence and exchange."

Similarly, Tolstoy has said that the cause of 'counterfeit art' was "the remuneration of artists and professionalism", and also indicted 'Schools of Art', finding it unthinkable that art could be 'taught'. Likewise he attacked 'art criticism', the purveyors of which were "erudite, perverted self-confident individuals", seemingly unaware that "to a good work of art, all interpretations are superfluous."
These critics "pay most attention to, and eulogise, brain-spun invented works, and set up these as models worthy of imitation."

Tolstoy places much emphasis on that product of 18th century Neoclassicism, the discipline of 'Aesthetics', which sought to define 'the Beautiful', saying that such a mode of study is not only harmful to art, but is also a waste of time because it defines 'nothing at all' save the truism that beauty causes a 'kind of pleasure.'

'Aesthetics' was seen as a symptom of the modern 'alienation' of the artist;
"The 18th century marks the development of the strictly modern institution of the museum. It is no accident at all that museums should begin at a time when philosophers were elaborating a separate discipline of aesthetics: the two events flow from the same historical condition of man, in which from beginning to end all human thinking is rooted." [Barret]

To Heidegger, "when Aesthetics achieves its greatest possible height, breadth and rigour of form, (2) great art comes to an end."

This is a position no less extreme than that found in Tolstoy and Baudrillard, but are we really to accept that great art is dead?
The 'movements' of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, such as Dada, may certainly indicate to some that there is a serious malaise. As Honegger exclaimed; "have we lost the arts?"

(2) Heidegger pinpoints Hegel's Lectures on Aesthetics 1828-9.


Romanticism and Pessimism: The Artist as God

To name an object is to take away three-fourths of the enjoyment of the poem, which consists in the happiness of guessing little-by-little; to suggest it: that is the dream.

Both the despair and decadence of Romanticism, and the violence and nihilism of Modernism, are quite proper to counterfeit art according to Baudrilliard because it "always connotes something diabolical: the uneasiness before the mirror image. There is already sorcery at work in the Mirror. But how much more so when this image can be detached from the mirror and be transported, stocked, reproduced at will: all reproduction implies a kind of Black Magic."

A growing technological mastery of nature meant a concomitant ruthless exploitation of her resources, both animate and inanimate;

"It is with Romanticism that a strange new chord of anxiety is sounded: man has entered upon some new and uncertain turning-point in his history in the course of which he will become severed from Nature so that the voice of the poet will not be heard and poetry itself become a dead art of the past." [Barret]

The severance of art from life becomes painfully apparent as the great Romantics struggle to heal the schism and return to a Golden Age. Lord Byron wrote that;

"'Art' comes over me in a kind of rage every now and then ... and then, if I don't write to empty my mind, I go mad. As to that regular, uninterrupted love of writing ... I do not understand it. I feel it as a torture, which I must get rid of, but never as a pleasure. On the contrary, I think composition a great pain." [Letter to Moore, 1821]

Here we see two extreme views of the artist. On the one hand the inspired, primal, shamanic; and on the other, the level-headed contractual maker of product. The Symbolist poet Rimbaud gave the best known formula of the former in his Lettre du Voyant (1871), where the poet as 'voyant' or visionary claims abrupt access to new horizons of consciousness, which contrasts with the rational Newtonian ascent 'on the shoulders of giants'. The first is a Wotan-like self-sacrifice for the Unknown, while the second is the gradual discovery of 'Nature's Laws'.
The Romantic view that poetry is 'the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings' [Wordsworth], also marks its aversion to the art of Realism where;
 "Poesy therefore is an art of imitation, for so Aristotle termeth it in his word 'mimesis'; that is to say, a representing, counterfeiting or figuring forth - to speak metaphorically, a speaking picture."

But to Schlegel, 'mere representation' was 'not enough'. It was necessary for there to be a 'spark of divine enthusiasm'. From this, the artist came to see himself as a God, while art developed towards abstraction.

Against the background of such movements as Surrealism and Abstract-Expressionism, Camus wrote that;

"Periods such as ours, which are bent on unity to the point of madness, turn to the primitive arts, in which stylisation is always found at the beginning and end of artistic movements; it demonstrates the intensity of negation and transposition which has given modern painting its disorderly impetus towards interpreting unity and existence. Van Gogh's admirable complaint is the arrogant and desperate cry of all artists: 'I can very well, in life, and in painting do without God. But I cannot, suffering as I do, do without something that is greater than I am, which is my life - the power to create."

Art as Will to Power

We have art in order not to die of the truth.

Following the Pre-Platonic practice of positing an arche to characterise, in Heidegger's phrase, 'the basic occurrence of all beings', Nietzsche saw art as the metaphysics of existence, which was itself, fundamentally, 'the will to power'.
It is only through art that we can acquire the clearest glimpse of the basic configuration of the will to power.

Nietzsche eschewed the Platonic segregation of the world into Appearance/Reality, because to him the apparent world was the only reality, and therefore of course, the realm of art.
It was the task of art to give form, and to provide a 'stimulant to life'.
The life-denying decadence of a Schopenhauer or Buddhism was poison, because the artist must needs be a yea-sayer: Art is Absolute Affirmation.

Here Nietzsche moves beyond the pure irrationalism and death-wish fantasies which are found in the Romantics. Art was rather to be a 'counter-movement to nihilism'; and the basic physiological and psychological state of the artist was one of rapture [Ger. 'Rausch'].
But this was not the pure subjectivism of the Romantics, but instead a radical synthesis of the Apollonian and the Dionysian.
Rapture was not only inward, but an opening-outwards and an 'attunement' with 'Beings in the world'. As Heidegger interpreted it, "we ascend beyond ourselves. Such ascent beyond ourselves, to the full of our essential capability, occurs according to Nietzsche in rapture.
"Thus the beautiful is disclosed in rapture.
"The beautiful itself is what transports us into the feeling of rapture.
"From this elucidation of the essence of the beautiful, the characterisation of rapture, of the basic aesthetic state, acquires enhanced clarity. If the beautiful is what sets the standard for what we trust we are essentially capable of, then the feeling of rapture, as our relation to the beautiful, can be no mere turbulence and ebullition. The mood of rapture is rather an attunement in the sense of the supreme and most measured determinateness."

This brings us to the importance of form. Nietzsche again;

"What it takes to be an artist is that one experience what all non-artists call 'form' as content, as 'the matter itself'. With that, of course, one is relegated to an inverted world. For from now on one takes content to be something merely formal- including one's own life." [WP]

As Heidegger tells us, Nietzsche's 'method' was one of reversal, or rather re-valuation. By this process, 'Art is now worth more than the Truth.'

The Grand Style

Grand Style: when a noble nature, poetically gifted, treats with simplicity or with severity a serious subject.

'Grand Style' [der grosse Stil] was how Nietzsche referred to the Classic form which he saw as the basic structure of existence. It was 'where the extremes of chaos and form advanced under the same yoke. Grand Style disdains to please or to persuade: rather it commands; it wills. Art 'erupts' in he body as rapt-ure; yet it paradoxically has to impose values. 'Being Stamped onto Becoming' is the formula for The Eternal Recurrence of the Same, and this is the essence of the will to power. There is no question of a 'letting go'; in order to cultivate the 'rare protracted, measured victory over plenitude - that is Grand Style - man must be made 'hard, natural strong; more wicked.'

The theory of the 'grand style' went back at least as far as Longinus and his 'sublime'. The distinction between Great and Mean style had its root in the nobility - or its lack - of the artist himself. Grand Style was typified by 'noble diction' and 'elevated composition'.
Renaissance theory differentiated between base style, middle style and high or grand style. Grand Style was only to be used for epics and tragedies.
In 18th century art, Racine's work is seen to exemplify Grand Style, and in Neoclassicism Grand Style usurps all others. 19th century Romanticism sees a reaction against Grand Style. In English literature Matthew Arnold forcefully argued for Grand Style [see his Preface to Poems of 1853 and his 'On Translating Homer' of 1862], putting forward Homer and Pindar as his touchstones for Grand Style amongst the ancients.
Arnold distinguishes between the 'grand style simple' - as in Homer, and the 'grand style severe' - as in Milton. [cf. Perminger ed. for the above]

Arnold's own poem 'Balder Dead' aimed at the Grand Style;

So on the floor lay Balder dead; and round
Lay thickly strewn swords, axes, darts, and spears,
Which all the Gods in sport had idly thrown
At Balder, whom no weapon pierced or clove;
But in his breast stood fixt the fatal bough
Of mistletoe, which Lok the Accuser gave
To Hoder, and unwitting Hoder threw--
'Gainst that alone had Balder's life no charm.
And all the Gods and all the Heroes came,
And stood round Balder on the bloody floor,
Weeping and wailing; and Valhalla rang
Up to its golden roof with sobs and cries;
And on the tables stood the untasted meats,
And in the horns and gold-rimm'd skulls the wine.
And now would night have fall'n, and found them yet
Wailing; but otherwise was Odin's will.
[opening of Balder Dead]

 For Arnold, the Greeks "are the highest models of expression, the unapproached masters of the grand style." [Preface to Poems]
This is because "they want to educe and cultivate what is best and noblest in themselves." [ib.]

In a discussion on Arnold's use of 'grand style' [in 'Essays and Studies' by members of the 'English Association', Volumes 1- 2, 1948-9] Bailey says that the grand style "belongs rather to the calm than to the storm, though perhaps no calm will give it but that which the storm has preceded." Compare Nietzsche's Zarathustra's, 'the stillest words bring the storm'.
Bailey goes on to say that the grand style is "the style which takes the spirit from the poet's overpowering consciousness of the presence of greatness ... a thing of fine line than of rich colour; sculpture rather than painting; with nothing voluptuous or even overflowing, in it, quiet, austere, with a kind of stern simplicity."
Here we hear the sound of Apollo's lyre and realise that the dualism of Apollo/Dionysos is once more at work in this characterisation of the Grand Style.
Bailey makes a Nietzschean claim for the amorality of the Grand Style;
"The essential quality of grand style is greatness, and the point is that greatness is not the same thing even as beauty and goodness."

Much of the controversy in the above discussion was due to Arnold excluding Shakespeare from the Grand Style. Arnold and Nietzsche were in agreement that Shakespeare's work is too mixed [i.e. of base and middle styles along with grand] to be Grand Style per se. Another point of agreement, given Nietzsche's extolling of the gaya scienza, was Arnold's view that "the poetry of the langue d'oc, of southern France, of the troubadours, is ... the first literature of modern Europe to strike the true and grand note." ['On Translating Homer']

Important for the present essay is Arnold's assertion that poetry is "thought and art in one."
And that;

"The substance and matter of the best poetry acquire their special character from possessing, in an eminent degree, truth and seriousness." [ib.]

The British poet John Wain decried the lack of grand style found in modernism;
"The throwing away of form in contemporary poetry and the arts generally is the result of that jelly-bellied democratisation - in a mass society only the lowest level of finesse is acceptable - and partly of sheer mental confusion."

For Heidegger, poetry is the art form par excellence for the Grand Style, because it "is not mere ornament of culture, but the primary and essential form of language. Hence, the thinker who exposes himself to poetry may gain through it some unique access to the meaning of Being." [quoted in Barret]