Commentary on Political Economy

Tuesday 27 November 2012

Nietzsche on Art as The Problem of Philosophy

For Nietzsche, the Political is the continuation of civil war by other [symbolic, metaphoric, false, conventional] means. This “dissimulation” is simply a ruse to enforce a certain “polite” life-style that serves to protect the persona of the individual in a society that needs to keep at bay the state of nature. This “convention” is simply a means of self-preservation and self-protection – a “device” (cf. Heidegger’s Zustand and Gestell, or even Foucault’s dispositif) that seeks to elevate mere “conventions” and symbols, such as language and science, to the status of “truth”. Truth therefore is not just a perspective but it is also a convention that humans elevate to “the measure of all things” in an attempt to make the world “familiar”, “manageable” and “safe” – to male it certain. This truth-as-certainty is an instance of that Christian-bourgeois quest for Sekuritat that makes liberal democratic regimes constitutionally resistant to political change (cf. Arendt’s penetrating insights on this topic in On Revolution, discussed in Part 4 of our Weberbuch).

The question of why human beings come to place their faith in “science and progress” is one that Nietzsche will explore meticulously later with the concept of the “self-dissolution” of Christian-bourgeois society as the culmination of the ontogeny of thought. For the moment, in 1873, he can merely describe the difficulty in frustrated “constructivist” terms, thinking that “iteration”, sheer “long use and now-unconscious custom”, mere “persistence”, can serve as an explanation of the mathesis. For the moment his analysis is confined to a mere “phenomenology and perspectivism”. Nietzsche makes his exasperation at his own inability to isolate the relevant causes evident in a string of oft-quoted passages:

Still we do not yet know whence the instinct of truth
[Trieb der Wahrheit] comes… (p180)

Wir wissen immer noch nicht, woher der Trieb zur Wahrheit stammt:

…only by all this does he [man] live with some repose, safety and
consequence [Ruhe, Sicherheit und Konsequenz:…]. (p.184)

If he were able to get out of the prison
walls of this faith, even for an instant only, his "self-consciousness"
would be destroyed at once. Already
it costs him some trouble to admit to himself that the
insect and the bird perceive a world different from his

Surely every human being who is at home with
such contemplations has felt a deep distrust against
any idealism of that kind, as often as he has distinctly
convinced himself of the eternal rigidity, omnipresence, and infallibility
of nature's laws [Naturgesetzen]: he has arrived at the conclusion that as far as we can penetrate the heights of the telescopic and the depths of the microscopic world, everything is quite secure[!], complete, infinite, determined, and continuous.
Science will have to dig in these shafts eternally
and successfully and all things found are sure to
have to harmonise and not to contradict one another. (p186)

And as the man of action binds his life to reason and its
concepts, in order to avoid being swept away and losing
himself, so the seeker after truth builds his hut close
to the towering edifice of science in order to collaborate with it and
to find protection. And he needs protection. (Beginning of Part 2)

Clearly at this early stage, Nietzsche’s thought is still confined to the “velleitary and arbitrary”, metaphorical and anthropomorphic assessment of signification and ultimately of physical mathematics, of mathesis. He fails to identify, except for his insistence on “persistence” and “crystallization and sclerosis”, the problem of why science and logic as specific practices have come about, of why they have “triumphed”. And above all he fails to explain how they could have done so, - again, outside of sheer habit, repetition and therefore con-vention (“persistency” [Verharren] and “crystallisation and sclerosis” [Hart- und Starr-werden])! Nietzsche is mixing up the arbitrariness of signifiers (semeiotics) with the problem of scientific causation – which is in practice only regularity and predictability. He still fails to see that it is not the “predictability” that is a “convention”, but rather the “direction of scientific and technological practice” that responds to “antagonistic values” being presented as “objectivity” or “necessity” or “causality” when in reality it occurs in “conventional experimental circumstances” which supply the problematic, all-important “nexus”. All that can be established then - not “proven” or “explained” but merely “described” - are the “regularities” that can be given numerical expression in space and time and be exploited instrumentally by humans. Consequently, these “regularities” are mere “conventions”, anthropomorphic metaphors or metonymies.

The very relation of a nerve-stimulus to the produced
percept is in itself no necessary one; but if the same
percept has been reproduced millions of times and has
been the inheritance of many successive generations of
man, and in the end appears each time to all mankind
as the result of the same cause, then it attains finally
for man the same importance as if it were the unique,
necessary percept and as if that relation between
the original nerve-stimulus and the percept produced
were a close relation of causality: just as
a dream eternally repeated, would be perceived and
judged as though real. But the congelation and
coagulation of a metaphor does not at all guarantee
the necessity and exclusive justification of that metaphor. (p185)

Selbst das Verhältnis eines Nervenreizes zu dem hervorgebrachten Bilde ist an sich kein notwendiges: wenn aber dasselbe Bild millionenmal hervorgebracht und durch viele Menschengeschlechter hindurch vererbt ist, ja zuletzt bei der gesamten Menschheit jedesmal infolge desselben Anlasses erscheint, so bekommt es endlich für den Menschen dieselbe Bedeutung, als ob es das einzig notwendige Bild sei und als ob jenes Verhältnis des ursprünglichen Nervenreizes zu dem hergebrachten Bilde ein strenges Kausalitätsverhältnis sei: wie ein Traum, ewig wiederholt, durchaus als Wirklichkeit empfunden und beurteilt werden würde. Aber das Hart- und Starr-Werden einer Metapher verbürgt durchaus nichts für die Notwendigkeit und ausschließliche Berechtigung dieser Metapher.

Nietzsche is already searching for the genealogy of morals and understands early that the Apollonian/Dionysian opposition between intellect and intuition, reason and ec-stasis, is a way for “Christian-bourgeois society” to impose an artificial style of behaviour and life on its members by enforcing the “superiority” of the intellect over the instincts. Nietzsche comes to see “consciousness” or intellect as a “mask”, as a ruse, as the beginning of that “ontogeny of thought” that will shape the “transition” from the neutral state of the state of nature to the conventional “values” of liberal Christian-bourgeois society – “the cemetery of intuitions”, the “disgregation of the instincts” - and its “apparent”, “idealistic” or utilitarian reconciliation of the system of needs. Ultimately, it is this semiotic “structure of ideas” that permits the social synthesis, the reproduction of human society, but one that pretends to homologate scientifically the organization of production with the liberal constitutional order – the Political with the Economic sanctioned with the seal of “scientific truth” in the homonymous “science of Political Economy”.

The effectuality of this homologation of disparate and heterogeneous realities, the “possibility” of the reproduction of liberal Christian-bourgeois civil society is what seems to confirm and validate the scientific calculation, regularity and predictability of the symbolic exchange, of the “Truth” and the “values” of Christian-bourgeois society – what Nietzsche calls “the eternal rigidity, omnipresence, and infallibility of nature's laws [Naturgesetzen]”, where “everything is quite secure, complete, infinite, determined, and continuous” – that is, the inter-subjectivity of its symbolic interaction - all of which boils down to the “Value” of Political Economy, the quidditas or “whatness”, the quantifiable and calculable hard reality that makes possible the social synthesis. (As we shall soon see, this dual aspect of “what makes society possible” and of “what is possible for society” is what constitutes the central quest of the great social theoreticians from Hegel to Marx and Weber. Nietzsche evades this question altogether, first, because he sees human beings in purely ontogenetic instead of phylogenetic terms, and second because the “negative thinking” of which he is the highest expression obliterates the entire meaning of human “potential” or “fulfillment” which it consigns to the empyrean of “teleology”.

The problem with Nietzsche's "true phenomenology and perspectivism" is precisely that the “regularities and predictions” of scientific mathesis are often so strong that they go beyond the mere notion of “convention” and "habituation"; that they may be “arbitrary” in their designation but “necessary”, not in a physical sense but in a socio-political one in that they lie outside the will of some humans, in their “regularity and predictability”. Nietzsche is simply not dealing with the fact that it is not our “designation” of each separate “leaf” with the symbol “leaf” that is the problem: the problem is that this designation is effectual in the prediction of what a “leaf” will do in different "experimental" situations created by human beings that belong to an antagonistic society. And this is what constitutes a “political practice”! So Nietzsche simply does not confront yet this “political practice” as inter-subjectively valid science! Although he clearly perceives the problem of what constitutes this validity, of this effectuality, whereby “truth” and “science” may be “un-masked” and de-mystified, he simply is unable yet to go beyond a rudimentary “conventional” explanation of scientific practice as more than “persistence” or "habituation" and “self-deception” that have sunk to the level of “necessity” and “instinct”. The question we need to answer next is whether despite these early failures we can find already in Uber Wahrheit the seeds for a more thorough-going critique of social and scientific reality in Nietzsche that can lead us to lay new foundations for the critique of the Christian-bourgeois society of capital.

We may thoroughly appreciate now from our foregoing discussion the validity and correctness of Cacciari’s judgement on the “inexistence of an aesthetics in Nietzsche” separable from and subordinate to philosophical reasoning.

1. Es conocida la afirmación de Nietzsche en El origen de la tragedia por la cual el arte aparece como la verdadera actividad metafísica del hombre. Aun en el Ensayo de una autocrítica de 1886 él recalca que aquella juvenile metafísica de artista contenía ya lo esencial de su pensamiento sucesivo. Es lícito, por lo tanto, considerar en términos sustancialmente unitarios la concepción nietzscheana del arte. Nietzsche no está interesado en la elaboración de una estética como un dominio filosófico especial; el arte es para él problema filosófico-metafísico: en la actividad artística está en juego una apertura al ser, una iluminación metafísica sobre el sentido del ente.
Producción artística e interpretación del producto artístico son ambos problemas filosóficos. No existe autonomía del arte respecto a lo filosófico, así como no existe autonomía de lo filosófico respecto al arte. Arte y filosofía sepresentan perennemente unidas en aquella deconstrucción de la tradición metafísica europea que constituye el objetivo de la total crítica nietzscheana. (‘El Arte in N.’)

We could not agree more with Cacciari’s position. As we have shown, art is prior to philosophy for Nietzsche just as intuition and perception are prior to reflection in terms of his “onto-geny of thought” in which, once more, memory or re-collection or re-flection plays a crucial role in the “construction of concepts” out of “crystallised metaphors”. Once again, however, the metaphysical status of art in Nietzsche’s conception of it as “the construction of metaphors by an artistically creative subject” and as “the genius of falsity” is open to objection on the grounds that (a) meta-phors re-fer (bring back) invariably to a substratum “beyond which they bring” (meta pherein, to bring over), and (b) it is impossible to separate (here is another chorismos) – as Nietzsche himself maintains! - meta-phors from the act of perception itself and indeed from “concepts” – and therefore it cannot be accurate to describe human perception and intuition as “the construction of metaphors” and “appearances”!

Cacciari sharply points out Nietzsche’s ambiguity on the first count: - that if “art is the genius of falsehood”, then it follows that Nietzsche still posits a “Truth”, a “Fundamentum”, in relation to which art is “falsehood”!

8 Nietzsche afirma que el arte constituye el "genio de la mentira". Se trata de un ejemplo evidente de "platonismo invertido", en que Nietzsche se obstina en separar de una manera demasiado abstracta "razón clásica" y modernidad.  (Cacciari, ‘El Hacer del Canto’)

Quite right! If indeed “art is the genius of falsity”, this can occur if and only if there is some “thing” that art can properly “falsify”, some “re-ality” in relation to which art can actually lie. But this is precisely the starting point of Plato’s vehement condemnation of art and its dissoi logoi (“double talk”) and doxa (opinion, chatter) as against philosophy’s logico-discursive dialectic reasoning (dianoia) leading to episteme (knowledge, science)! In complete contrast, what Nietzsche meant by this expression was precisely that art is the genius of falsity in opposition to or transgression against “the cemetery of intuitions” constituted by that oppressive “structure of concepts” represented by “logic and science” – by the two activities that pretend to represent “the truth” when in fact they are “distancing” human beings from the greatest “truth” of all – and that is that all human perception and reasoning is “based on the construction of artistic or aesthetic metaphors”! Nietzsche’s expression is ironic to some extent; and yet its literal “inverted Platonism” points once more to his early confusion with regard to a “reality” that art “genially falsifies” by creating “contra-dictory appearances”.

And Cacciari is right also on the second count because “the construction of metaphors” – that is, art – is inseparable from the construction of concepts – philosophy.

Pero esta afinidad es revelable por diferencia. La consideración del hecho artístico es llevada a cabo filosóficamente, no porque el arte sea representación o se limite a imaginar las ideas filosóficas. El arte es problema filosófico en tanto su estructura es problema para la filosofía; su presencia, la presencia de su palabra choca con la dimensión conceptual del trabajo filosófico. Arte y filosofía se unen polarmente, por oposición. De una vez Nietzsche supera, por esta vía, toda estética decadentista de la autonomía pura del hecho artístico, así como todo contenido ideológico. Arte y filosofía están indisolublemente conectados en tanto problema el uno con la otra. Aún más: el arte es siempre presencia amenazante-inquietante para la pura filosofía.

Because philosophy itself cannot be com-prehended by its own logos and must remain therefore an artistic activity, and because artistic activity is prior to philosophical re-flection or contemplation in that it is in-comprehensible to the philosophical logos, it follows that artistic activity reaffirms the primacy of in-vention over re-flection – which poses an insuperable metaphysical problem for philosophy – again, not in the sense that art is a problem for philosophy to consider, one among many, but rather in the sense that art is the problem of philosophy, a problem that is ante-cedent to, that pre-cedes philosophical reflection! As Cacciari genially puts it, “art is a philosophical problem in that its structure [its nature as activity] is problematic for philosophy”. This cannot be said even of theology, as Werner Jaeger has shown with his concept of “natural theology” (in The Theology of the Early Greek Philosophers), in that the divine is not prior to metaphysics as an activity but forms only one of its problems or aspects.

This is precisely why art poses “a menacing and disquieting presence for pure philosophy” – because of its precedence over philosophy as an activity, as initium. Art shows the “activist” reality of philosophy – its practical initium, the fact that even conceptually its “doing”, its being a “beginning”, is prior to and cannot be com-prehended (grasped and explained totally) by pure thought or reflection given that thought is itself an activity, namely, “thinking about thinking”, where the second “thinking” stands for the meta-phorical activity of art upon which philosophy is both a “re-flection” and ultimately an artistic activity in itself! Of course, artistic activity is in-conceivable without thought itself – as Nietzsche reminded us earlier, without the pro-duction of meta-phors inseparable from the act of intuition and perception as appearance. Yet, if it is not pre-conceptual, art is certainly pre-reflective and (as Cacciari would say) pre-discursive activity in that both its “doing” and its “feeling” or “sense” is prior to philosophic reflection and its logos. It is the “union” of these opposed moments in art – the “doing” and the “feeling” - that poses a greater problem for philosophy than it does for art – because the task of philosophy is precisely to com-prehend all activity, including the artistic, and this it cannot do if philosophy remains an artistic activity itself, an initium that is incomprehensible by and inexplicable to philosophy. (This “materiality” or immanence of thought is what escapes Arendt because of her formalistic-abstract, trans-scendental approach to it in ‘Life of the Mind’. See our ‘Immanence Revisited’ and ‘Philosophy of the Flesh’.)

It is precisely for these reasons that we simply cannot go along with Cacciari and persist with the terminology he adopts from Nietzsche with regard to “art as the genius of falsity” and to the “contradictoriness” of the world. However “tragic” may be the attempt at mimesis, whether artistic or philosophico-scientific, it does not evince the contradictoriness of life and the world! Croce’s objection in the Logica against the Nietzschean thesis was precisely that if there is no “truth”, then it is impossible to prove the “truth” of this thesis! This is an objection of which Cacciari does not seem to be mindful because, like Croce, he remains captive to the primacy of “truth” and thus equivocates about “the truth of non-truth”!

El arte de lo profundo es del todo solidario con lo Verdadero de la metafísica. Para ambos la apariencia es mentira, y el signo no otra cosa que vestimenta-escritura del pensamiento. Este arte miente demasiado; en realidad, miente dos veces: la primera haciendo propia la mentira del Fundamentum metafísico; la segunda reduciendo las propias configuraciones sígnicas a seductores velos del logos. El poeta transformado opone a este exceso de mentira la perfecta medida de
su arte: existen múltiples modos de abrirse al mundo - el signo es una apertura al mundo; él afirma la verdad de la apariencia, el carácter abismal (ab-gründlich: sin fundamento, continuamente desfondante) de la apariencia, la verdad de aquello que para la metafísica es no-verdad, por lo tanto, mentira, y por otra parte, el carácter de velo, de ocultamiento de esta verdad de la apariencia que reviste la Verdad metafísica. Como Derrida ha explicado: la Verdad falsificada , deviene apariencia, o, mejor dicho, asume el rol que la apariencia tenía a sus ojos, y la apariencia deviene única verdad, no porque sustituya al antiguo Fundamento, sino porque indica la verdad de la ausencia de Fundamento, verdad de la no-Verdad.
El arte en cuanto juego de configuraciones sígnicas es entonces, el pensamiento de la verdad de la apariencia, de la verdad de la no-verdad… pero la Forma [artistica] no tiene nada de
formalístico: ella es universal facultad falsificante, pone la verdad como no-verdad. La Forma artística abre al mundo, es apertura al ser, en cuanto divina tirada de dados, abismo del Azar y de sus combinaciones, teoría trágica del eterno crear-destruir. (El Arte en N.)

Note this critical expression by Cacciari:

El arte en cuanto juego de configuraciones sígnicas es entonces el pensamiento de la verdad de la apariencia, de la verdad de la no-verdad…

Note that this “play of configurations” can be understood only in relation to the reality of social formations, only in terms of “the social synthesis”, without which our entire speculative efforts relapse into sheer mysticism, which is what he slips into in the last paragraph from the quotation above:

…pero la Forma [artistica] no tiene nada deformalístico: ella es universal facultad falsificante, pone la verdad como no-verdad. La Forma artística abre al mundo, es apertura al ser, en cuanto divina tirada de dados, abismo del Azar y de sus combinaciones, teoría trágica del eterno crear-destruir.

True, as Cacciari himself shows in ‘El Hacer del Canto’, the mimetic gap does remit the telos of philosophy and its logos back to the mystical world of “divine inspiration”, of “delirium” – a thesis advanced long ago by Werner Jaeger in The Theology of the EarlyGreek Philosophers (see our ‘Postcard from Istanbul’). The painful realization of this common artistic-metaphorical matrix is what pro-voked the wrath of Plato’s “condemnation” of art and mythology because these expose the “tragic” inability of philosophy and science to bridge this mimetic gap. But the mimetic gap ec-sists only for philosophy and its transcendental logos; it does not ec-sist in reality for art whose only reality is that of so-called “appearances” and “meta-phors”!

Un instante hace irrupción, donde una voz que constituye siempre el a priori de toda idea del artesano, se abate sobre el hombre, transformándolo en su propio instrumento. A través de él, que no es, por lo tanto, el sujeto de la creación (y cuyo "hacer" no tiene su origen en el no-ser), esa voz se manifiesta visiblemente, se expresa audiblemente, resuena, se transforma en ese canto. Ese canto es mímesis, en el sentido en que está de acuerdo, en armonía, solo con esa voz, y por lo tanto realmente con nada, ya que esa voz, en tanto tal, no se da nunca verdaderamente. Ese canto, en suma, no es la mímesis sino de su propio presupuesto, que trasciende toda medida, toda utilidad y toda techne normal. Ese "hacer" que constituye el canto es, pues, verdaderamente un delirio en relación con el habitus de la poesía, de las technai que teje el arte de la realeza: y, sin embargo, cuanto más delimitamos su especificidad, más su carácter arcaico, su ser arche, cuya muerte o superación ningún logos podrá decretar, puesto que todos se expresan a través de su principio y en su presencia, aparece como evidente. (El Hacer del Canto)

In a later piece, Cacciari this time seems to agree with Nietzsche’s thesis that art is “the genius of falsity” because life and the world are perceptible and knowable only as appear-ances, and there-fore as “contra-dictory”.

El problema filosófico del arte se centraliza en la relación arte-mentira. En el prefacio a la segunda edición de La Gaya Ciencia, Nietzsche dice:

Nos ha fastidiado este mal gusto [...] querer la verdad a toda costa [...] esta fascinación de adolescentes por el amor a la verdad. La artes son excogitadas como una especie de culto de lo no-verdadero.

Estas indicaciones se articulan plenamente sólo en los Fragmentos Póstumos sucesivos al Zaratustra. En el contexto de La Gaya Ciencia puede aún parecer que se trata simplemente de descubrir al juglar escondido en nuestra pasión por el conocimiento - y aquello que en el arte se limite a enfatizar la dimensión romántica del ejercicio interminable de la ironía, solamente deconstructiva, sobre el mundo-verdadero. En los Fragmentos Póstumos, sobre todo en aquellos que pertenecen al período 87-88, es evidente, en cambio, que Nietzsche no está interesado en una estética especial -en el caso en cuestión, la irónico-romántica -, sino en la definición de las estructuras fundamentales del hecho artístico. En el arte él aprehende una facultad general, un poder-Kraft que tiene validez universal. En el arte está en juego una dimensión general del ser, una total facultad falsificante. El arte es la facultad-Kraft que niega la verdad - o, mejor dicho el arte es expresión de esta facultad universal, y por lo tanto activa en cualquier otro dominio. Pero en el arte el genio de la mentira resurge en su pureza - el poder de la mentira se muestra en toda su luz y belleza. Aquella voluntad de poder que nos permite reducir la cruel realidad, contradictoria y sin sentido del mundo a nuestra necesidad de vivir - aquella voluntad de poder que es la gran creadora de la posibilidad de vivir - pone sus nervios al desnudo en el arte.Tenemos el arte para no perecer frente a la verdad.

This is an unnecessary forzatura of Nietzsche’s thought caused in part by his own careless and misguided manner of articulating the problem in the early works. As we can see from our quotation below, for Nietzsche it is as senseless to say that “the essence of things”, and therefore contra-diction, exists as it is to state the contrary!

For our antithesis of individual and categories is anthropomorphic too
[i.e. is of purely human origin] and does not come from the essence of things,
although on the other hand we do not dare to say that it does not correspond
to it; for that would be a dogmatic assertion and as such just as
undemonstrable as its contrary. (UWL, p.180)

Nietzsche merely contends that the principle of non-contradiction is inapplicable as a “metre” of both artistic and of scientific “doing” precisely to the degree that they are “doings”, initia, and not statements, what Cacciari calls “logico-discursive reason” and “vestimenta-escritura del pensamiento”! Life and the world are not contradictory because they ec-sist only as “appearance”,” - but this term now no longer stands in opposition to a “re-ality(!)”, to a “true world” – “the true world has disappeared with the apparent one”, ironises Nietzsche in the Twilight. Rather it indicates the primacy of perception and its “participation” (methexis) in the perceived, as well as the impossibility of truth-as-certainty and of truth-as-totality. The principle of non-contradiction is applicable only to the concept of truth-as-certainty and totality, of “reality as the essence of things”, and not to that of “appearance” which challenges the “objective existence” of such “re-ality” and that therefore makes the notion of “truth-as-certainty and totality” together with that of contra-diction superfluous. (We have shown in our Weberbuch and will discuss again soon how Weber misconceived this essential point in his critique of “objectivity” in science.)

If we understand “appearances” correctly (as Nietzsche indicates but fails to do consistently), then they can never be contra-dictory because as such they do not re-fer to any “under-lying [sub-stantive] reality” or “essence of things” or “things-in-themselves” against which they can be judged to be false. This is what allows Nietzsche to speak of “truth and falsehood in an extra-moral sense” (ausser-moralisch), that is to say, “outside” the morality to which this false opposition of real events gives rise! The polarity here is between the mani-fold and multi-versality of experience [appearances] which is re-presented and embodied by the human instinct to the creation of metaphors, art and myth, against the truth-as-certainty and uni-versality of “rational science” for which “reality” is definable in terms of ultimately self-referential “natural laws” subject to the principle of non-contradiction which they themselves must infringe. (Incidentally, the Popperian test of “falsifiability” of scientific truth runs against this insurmountable objection: - that it invalidates the very notion of “scientificity” because only “false statements” are “falsifiable”! In other words, Popper’s test of “scientificity” mis-conceives the entire notion of “scientificity” and is quite simply an ideological attempt to rescue bourgeois science from the Nietzschean critique of it as “the will to truth” and “truth-as-certainty” that underlie and sustain it: - it is no test at all given that even, and especially, blatant lies are “falsifiable” by definition and that, as we shall argue below in agreement with Nietzsche, the notion of “scientific truth” cannot stand on contingency – what Arendt called “verities” - but rather on the physical-mathematical necessity of “the laws of nature”!)

[In our next piece we will attempt to draw closer to a novel approach to the social synthesis through the critique of Cacciari and Vattimo.]

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