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The Optics of Science, Art, and Life How Tragedy Begins TRACY B. STRONG
Where do we find ourselves?
— R. W. Emerson, Experience
The greatest poverty is not to live In a physical world, to feel that one's desire Is too difficult to tell from despair.
— Wallace Stevens, Esthétique du Mal, xv
Emerson's five words raise four questions: of our place in the world; of who we are; of the difficulty of discovery; of becoming what one is. Stevens's poem reminds us that humans are self-impoverished, that they often and for manifold reasons resist living in and being of the world. It is also the case that it is au courant these days in Nietzsche-criticism to label him a "naturalist." Yet on the face of it this seems a bit off. Whatever is meant by "naturalism" — be it epistemological in the sense that hypotheses must be explained and tested only by reference to natural causes and events, or metaphysical, in the sense of a worldview in which reality is such that there is nothing that counts but natural things, forces, and causes of the kind that the natural sciences study — neither of these understandings fit very well with Nietzsche. Yet Stevens enjoins us to live in the physical world, and Emerson queries as to how.
In the capsule history of Western thought entitled "How the 'True World' Finally Became a Fable: The History of an Error," Nietzsche famously closes with: "The true world we abolished: which world was left? The apparent one perhaps? ... But no! along with the true world we have also abolished the apparent one" (TI "World" 6). Generally speaking, the idea of a naturalism in either of these guises rests on a binary opposition between a "real" world and an "ideal" (or not-real) one and the rejection of the second in favor of the first. But just as Platonism — which we might read as that which naturalism attacks — remains Platonism when stood on its head, so "naturalism" depends on the preexisting opposition. When both are abolished, as Nietzsche tells us, what is left is not "naturalism," nor is it idealism. "I find myself more in agreement with artists than with any philosophers hitherto," writes Nietzsche. He continues: "For myself and all those who live — are allowed to live — without the anxieties of a Puritan's conscience, I wish an ever greater spiritualization and multiplication of the senses" (KSA 11:37). Note: spiritualization and multiplication. Nietzsche's umgedrehter Platonismus is not to be understood as the valuation of the "natural" as opposed to that of the supersensuous. Nietzsche gets rid of both terms. Thus if he is to be a "naturalist," whatever he means by "nature" is far different from what is usually meant by that term, be it by Dennett, Dewey, Hook, Armstrong, Churchlands or Quine, ... or Leiter or Clark.
What does Nietzsche mean by "nature"? I should start out by saying that over the period of my life that I have been engaged by Nietzsche, I have become increasingly convinced that his first book is not only among the most important, if not the most important, of his work, but it sets out the project or projects that are to occupy him for the rest of his life in sanity. This project is political in the most extended sense of the word — it is, one might say, to explore, critique, and to change the unconscious of the West, such that a new second nature replace and become a first nature, a project he lays out explicitly at the end of the third section of the "Use and Misuse of History for Life." In this sense, the problem is not ignorance — it is not that we lack information; it is rather how we know what we know. And for this we have no concepts: hence the critical task is much more radical, and much more complex even than Kant's. As Nietzsche remarks in criticism of Socrates: "That of which one cannot be conscious [Unbewusste] is greater than the ignoring [Nichtwissen] of Socrates" (KSA 7:1).
But surely, you might say, there are at least three different periods to Nietzsche's work: an early romantic Wagner-intoxicated period, a second more positivistic (or "naturalistic") period that sees the volumes of Human, All Too Human, Dawn, and the first books of The Gay Science; a last "mature Nietzsche" reaching until sometime in 1888. Perhaps there is even a fourth period, that of the collapse. I find this unconvincing. The Birth of Tragedy was explicitly intended by Nietzsche as one prong of a triple attack. The other two were plans for a revision of the institutions of Bildung (his lectures FEI) and an exploration of what it would mean actually to be a philosopher in the contemporary world (PTA). When his first book fell, to borrow words from Hume, "still-born from the press," Nietzsche was dismayed. "How could this have happened?" he must have asked himself. I thus read the works of the late part of the 1870s as an attempt to discover for himself why he had been so wrong about the potential reception of The Birth of Tragedy, and the work of the 1880s as an analysis of what was it about various aspects of contemporary society that kept it from understanding (Z is to a great extent about social institutions; the GM is about morality; TI is about authority; BGE is about Wissenschaft, and so on). While there are changes — he learns things — the project remains much the same from beginning to end.
A clue to that project comes in the preface he wrote in 1886 to a new edition of his first book. The phrase that serves as the first part of my title comes from the second section of the 1886 "An Essay at Self-Critique." It regards ("optic") three elements. And with few exceptions — one of them is Babette Babich's work, especially the last chapter of her Nietzsche's Philosophy of Science (to which I owe a special debt in this paper); another are some essays by Jacques Taminiaux and Gary Shapiro; a third (a prompt for all of them) is the section on "The New Interpretation of Sensuousness" at the end of the "Will to Power as Art" section of Heidegger's lectures on Nietzsche — with the exception of these and a few others, very little attention has been paid to all of the elements of this triple optic.
When Nietzsche returns in 1886 to reclaim his early work with this series of new prefaces, he calls attention to what one might call the methodology of The Birth of Tragedy — how to understand (a) tragedy. It is to see "science through the optic of the artist, but also to see art through optic of life" (BT "Attempt" 2). The emphasis is Nietzsche's. Note especially the "but also." This is not a matter of taking up now this lens, now that, now a third. Rather, as Nietzsche often tells us, it is to have many perspectives, to have all these at once. The term "Optik" is singular: lens, optic, point of view — and it warns us that this is to be a matter of perspectivalism. If we are moved to explore this, Nietzsche's phrasing invites us to take the terms sequentially.
What Is Science?
So, what is "science"? The first realization here is that we are to understand the subject matter of The Birth of Tragedy as science. Science is here understood in the sense of Wissenschaft, here with particular reference to the classical philological science in which Nietzsche was trained. By "Wissenschaft," Nietzsche means what any German would have meant (and to some degree still does): a learned and learnable body of knowledge, with a methodology appropriate to it that is transmissible. The very beginning of The Birth of Tragedy makes this explicit:
We shall have gained much for the science of aesthetics, when we have arrived not only at the logical insight but also at the unmediated certainty of experience [Anschauung] that the continuous production of art is tied up with the doubleness of the Apollonian and the Dionysian. (BT 1)
Anschauung can also mean contemplation and resonates with anschaulich — clear or vivid. In translations of Kant, it is given as "intuition." Nietzsche is speaking of attaining clarity of one's own experience, as if most of the time our experience was not clear or available to us. Again the "not only ... but also" announce a common project for both science and experience. The project of the Birth is to recover the immediacy of experience as part of our understanding — a joining that Nietzsche thinks that the West has over time lost or rather denied itself. The joining of knowledge and clarity as to one's experience is necessary for a meaningful understanding.
One of the consequences of Socratism and Christianity is that humans no longer live — they merely exist. They lack what Thoreau had explored as and called a "natural life." Thus Nietzsche's critique of Socrates will be that he cannot allow himself — or is perhaps unable — to experience the world, here the tragedy. Nietzsche says as a criticism: "Now, however, the tragic art never seemed to 'tell the truth' for Socrates" (BT 14). The accusation against Socrates is that he cannot be an authentic audience member: this is to say that he cannot be open to the world. When Wallace Stevens claims, as in my epigraph, that "The greatest poverty is not to live / In a physical world," he is talking about the impoverishment consequent to cutting oneself off from allowing oneself to experience the world.
Here, however, we can dispose immediately of the canard that Nietzsche was "opposed" to science — whatever that might mean. As Babich has written:
There is a sense in which Nietzsche approves science. This approval is not for the sake of its truths or facts, but rather for the sake of its "honesty." The conception of honesty here reflects the character of the knower as an inquirer in the field of reality who still has integrity. For Nietzsche this integrity constitutes the most redeeming legacy of the scientific turn.
This insistence on integrity as central to the practice and vocation of science will become the touchstone of Weber's 1917 lecture Wissenschaft als Beruf. As Emerson had remarked in Experience, an essay Nietzsche knew well: "I would gladly be moral ... but I have my heart set on honesty." For Emerson, as for Nietzsche, the questions of finding and self turn initially on honesty.
This is a science that is also passionate (again Weber will pick this up) — that is, the pursuit of scientific truth involves a particular kind of emotional experience. Nietzsche has this to say in criticism of Aristotle: "According to Aristotle, science has nothing to do with enthusiasm, for one cannot rely on this unusual force: the work of art is the realization of the artistic insight of a proper artistic nature. A petit-bourgeois spirit!" (KSA 7:1). However the science of which Nietzsche speaks (honest and passionate) is not science as it is practiced. Nietzsche entitles a section in the fourth book of The Gay Science "Hoch die Physik" — "Hooray for physics" (GS 335). We soon discover that "physics" here is not what one has been taught in courses. He goes on to say that practically no one knows how to observe anything and that when they do, they apply a straitjacket of rules that makes the elements observed seem the same. (Note the parallel to the accusation against Socrates.) Against this, he urges that we learn from physics to "limit ourselves to the purification of our own opinions and valuations" (GS 335). To become a being who "gives itself law," we must become:
[T]he best learners and discoverers of everything that is lawful and necessary in the world: we must become physicists in order to be able to be creators in this sense — while hitherto all valuations and ideas have been based on ignorance of physics or were constructed so as to contradict it. Therefore: hooray for physics! And even more for that which compels us to turn to it — our honesty. (GS 335)
The praise of "physics" refers us to ????? and is here linked explicitly by Nietzsche to what one might call a radicalized version of the Kantian project of autonomy. To give oneself a law was the very grounding of integrity for Kant. Nietzsche goes, one might say, beyond Kant, as this kind of self-critique involves five explicit steps, which Nietzsche details in the entry cited earlier. First, it entails the recognition that no actions are identical; second, that every action — past, present, and future — is unique and irretrievable; third, that any regularity that is posited deals only with the "coarse exterior" of actions; fourth, that all appearance of regularity is merely semblance; and finally, that no claim about the validity or worth of an action is conclusively resolvable.
Honesty is what science can give us. Honesty means to be critical and self-critical of all assumptions, in particular of claims on the order of "X is the same as Y" or "X is a subcategory of Y." This is why it is important to realize that no two actions are ever the same and that appearance of sameness is only sameness in what he calls appearance (Schein). Thus for science, "Schein, as I understand it, is the actual and unique reality of things — it is that only to which existing predicates apply and which in a certain sense could not be better defined but by all predicates, that is also by contradictory predicates" (KSA 11:40). It is the subject matter of science (and science is not the less for that). Appearance is not opposed to "reality" (recall the passage from "How the 'True World' Became a Fable"), internally structured by and as the will to power. For if reality — the concern of science — is appearance, or rather the coming into appearance, it is, as Heidegger notes, a "perspectival letting-shine [Scheinlassen]." The taking of appearance as reality is thus always and necessarily perspectival, thus an error, or sometimes, as in what becomes Will to Power (WP 853), a "lie" that we have in "order to live" (KSA 13:11).
With the move to Schein, the analysis of science leads us to the question of art. Coming-into-appearance is the realm of art. It is as artists that we know that the world is brought into appearance, that it shines; hence, by art we are reminded of the need for criticality in science. Famously, he writes in 1888 that "we have art so that we do not perish from truth" (KSA 13:11). Indeed, the philosopher who opts for truth "deserves a beating." Nietzsche goes on immediately to note that this was the subject of his first book; in his notes he reserves here a place for a previously composed section on "Art in the Birth of Tragedy" (KSA 13:225). Note that the matter of his first book still concerns him in 1888.
What Is Art?
What then is art? In the notes of 1869, preparatory for The Birth of Tragedy, Nietzsche writes:
What is art? Is it the ability to engender [erzeugen] a world of will without will? No. It is to engender as new the world of will, without that which is brought about by willing in its turn. It is thus an engendering of that which is without will by the will and instinctively. If there is consciousness one calls this a craft [Handwerk]. With this [the conscious craft] the relation to engendering appears plausible, however the fullness of the will reappears. (KSA 7:1)
An entry shortly before this one expands the idea of art (as opposed to "the arts").
We are unfortunately accustomed to enjoy the arts in isolation: the insanity of art galleries and concert halls. The absolute arts are a sad modern bad habit. Everything comes apart. There are no organizations that collectively cultivate the arts as art, that is cultivate the spheres in which the arts go together. Rather each art goes a segment of the way alone and on another segment of the way accompanies the other arts. (KSA 7:1)
Thus when Nietzsche speaks of art he is speaking of something like mousike. Greek mousike refers to a vastly wider range of human activities than does our "music." The "little" Liddell and Scott Greek-English Lexicon refers to [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] as a "man of letters, a scholar, an accomplished person." From this it follows that whatever is meant by music in Greek, it must refer to not only a much wider range of activities than "music," but also to an integration of those activities one with the other. We may take what Nietzsche means by "art" to have such a reference. It gives us some clue as to the spirit of music from which tragedy is born.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Nietzsche and the Becoming of Life"
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Table of ContentsList of Abbreviations
Part I: Contesting Nietzsche's Naturalism
1. The Optics of Science, Art, and Life
Tracy B. Strong
2. Nietzsche, Nature, and Life Affirmation
Lawrence J. Hatab
Part II: Evolution, Teleology, and the Laws of Nature
3. Is Evolution Blind? On Nietzsche's Reception of Darwin
4. Nietzsche and the Nineteenth-Century Debate on Teleology
Mariana A. Cruz
5. Nietzsche's Conception of "Necessity" and Its Relation to "Laws of Nature"
Herman W. Siemens
Part III: Justice and the Law of Life
6. Life and Justice in Nietzsche's Conception of History
7. Life, Injustice, and Recurrence
8. Heeding the Law of Life: Receptivity, Submission, Hospitality
Daniel D. Conway
Part IV: The Becoming of a New Body and Sensibility
9. Toward the Body of the Overman
10. Nietzsche's Synaesthetic Epistemology and the Restitution of the Holistic Human
Rainer J. Hanshe
11. Nietzsche's Naturalist Morality of Breeding: A Critique of Eugenics as Taming
12. An "Other Way of Being": The Nietzschean "Animal": Contributions to the Question of Biopolitics
M nica B. Cragnolini
Part V: Purification and the Freedom of Death
13. Nietzsche and the Transformation of Death
14. Becoming and Purification: Empedocles, Zarathustra's bermensch, and Lucian's Tyrant
Part VI: The Becoming of the Soul: Nomadism and Self-Experiment
15. "Falling In Love with Becoming": Remarks on Nietzsche and Emerson
16. "We Are Experiments": Nietzsche on Morality and Authenticity
17. States and Nomads: Hegel's World and Nietzsche's Earth
List of Contributors