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Aesthetic intuition

To locate the meta-historical framework that guides Nietzsche’s explanation about the origin of tragedy, we turn to the very first sentence of the Birth. Boldly yet clearly, Nietzsche promises the source of his understanding of antiquity and the sphere in which his account would be justified, “not just through logical insight, but through the unmediated certainty of Anschauung [nicht nur logischen Einsicht, sondern zur unmittelbaren Sicherheitder Anschauung].”[1] The key term Anschauung, which has too often been passed over in the literature,[2] along with its verbal and adjectival derivatives, are repeated no less than thirty-seven times throughout the text. Neither ‘intuition,’ nor ‘point of view,’ nor ‘perception’ - various words translators have inconsistently used[3] - fully captures Nietzsche’s usage. I would put forward the translation ‘aesthetic intuition’ in order to highlight its peculiar dual status as an epistemological-cum-aesthetic notion. As opposed to Kant, for whom it designates a direct awareness of individual entities by way of a passive sensibility and of the formal percepts through which we become aware of those entities,[4] or Schelling, for whom it is the organ of all transcendental thoughts, it is Schopenhauer’s notion of the aesthetic Anschauung that most influenced Nietzsche’s own vision at this time, and that most indelibly appears in The Birth of Tragedy. Since the term is absolutely crucial to understanding the explanatory framework in which his historiography operates, we would do well to understand its historical context.

For Schopenhauer, understanding always involves representing an object under the forms of intellection. Having reduced Kant’s forms of the understanding to the trio of space, time, and causality, Schopenhauer holds that the world is presented to us representationally only under these logical forms. To know an object, then, is to do so only subjectively and only phenomenally, only insofar as it can be presented to our forms of intellection, but never in-itself. Where Schopenhauer most radically breaks from Kant, however, is in his belief that the intellectual forms ofsubjectivity could be literally suspended, either in the ethical realm through sympathy with all living beings or else, what concerns us here, in aesthetic contemplation. This aesthetic Anschauung is the special mode of perceiving wherein we apprehend ‘beyond’ the physical spatio- temporal object presently at hand, past the principium individuationis, and gaze into the corresponding Idea, which for Schopenhauer is the first objectification of the thing in-itself, the Will.

Raised up by the power of the mind, we relinquish the ordinary way of considering things, and cease to follow under the guidance of the forms of the principle of sufficient reason merely their relations to one another . .. Further, we do not let abstract thought, the concepts of reason, take possession of our consciousness, but, instead of all this, devote the whole power of our mind to Anschauung, sink ourselves completely therein, and let our whole consciousness be filled by the calm contemplation of the natural object actually present . .. We lose ourselves entirely in this object, to use a loaded expression; in other words, we forget our individuality, our will, and continue to exist only as pure subject, as clear mirror ofthe object, so that it is as though the object alone existed without anyone to perceive it, and thus we are no longer able to separate the intuitor from the intuited [den Anschauenden von der Anschauung], but the two have become one.[5]

Unlike Plato’s eide, Schopenhauer’s Ideen are not static metaphysical realities that cause an object to be what it is. Similar to Plato’s, however, they are the most universal and non-relational notions of an object possible, “also nicht mehr das Wo, das Wann, das Warum und das Wozu ... sondern einzig und allein das Was [thus no longer the where, the when, the why, or to what end... but ever only the what].”[6] An apprehension of what is allegedly relation-less cannot be accomplished through normal acts of perception, wherein our attention to the object is effectively determined in relation to its possible instrumentality in satisfying our will. It is only in the aesthetic contemplation of the beautiful, especially music due to its lack of visual form, that we free our gaze from the demands of the empirical will. Schopenhauer himself was entirely a naturalist when it came to knowledge-claims bounded by the fourfold root of the principle of sufficient reason, but recognized the essentially unbounded character of contemplative capacities of great artists. He writes:

But now, what kind of knowledge is it that considers what continues to exist outside and independently of all relations, but which alone is really essential to the world, the true content of its phenomena, that which is subject to no change, and is therefore known with equal truth for all time, in a word, the Ideas that are the immediate and adequate objectivity of the thing-in-itself, of the will? It is art, the work of genius. It repeats the eternal Ideas apprehended through pure contemplation, the essential and abiding element in all the phenomena of the world.[7]

In the act of aesthetic intuition we look upon the object as an instance of the universal rather than as a particular in some relationship with other objects in the world. Thus, in the contemplation of such an object, we rise above the demands of will and become like a clear mirror of the object as Idea.15

The means by which this mystical way of knowing is attained is most thoroughly explicated in Schopenhauer’s chapter “On the Pure Subject of Knowing.”

The apprehension of an Idea, its entry into our consciousness, comes about by means of a change in us, which might also be called an act of SelfRenunciation [einen Akt der Selbstverleugnung]. It consists in turning away entirely from our own will ... and considering things as though they could never in any way concern the will. For only thus does knowledge become the pure mirror of the objective inner nature of things.16

Since plurality, difference, and individuation are themselves nothing subsistent ontologically but phenomenal properties resulting from the peculiar interaction

15 WWV ii, §31; ii/2, 450.

among the spatio-temporal forms of intuition that constitute the principle of sufficient reason, a disruption or suspension of these forms would logically annul those same phenomenal properties that only result from them. The corresponding act of aesthetische Anschauung is thus achieved outside the framework of the normal subject-object dichotomy, in an act that effectively renounces the affects of the will, transforming the visceral subject into a “reines, willenloses, schmerzloses, zeitloses Subjekt der Erkenntnis.”17 In such a disposition, one temporarily dispenses with one’s phenomenal self and approaches a greater degree of unity with the Ur-Eine. And through this suspension of the forms of the phenomenal self, we no longer approach the world as will from the standpoint of a knowing subject, but as an aesthetically apprehending one. “As soon as knowledge, the world as representation, is abolished, nothing in general is left but the mere will, blind impulse.”18

  • [1] GT1; KSA i, 25.
  • [2] No reference to Anschauung is made, for example, in the best known English commentary, Silk and Stern(1983). The term was not included in the Nietzsche-Worterbuch, van Tongeren etal. 2004—), volume 1. Itis nowhere mentioned in the most prominent book about Nietzsche’s relationship with Schopenhauerianphilosophy, Simmel (1991). Among the few references to a theory of Anschauung, see Reibnitz 1992), 54—58. While Reibnitz does note the connection between Nietzsche’s conception of Anschauung andSchopenhauer’s aesthetics, the scope of her work does not permit tracing its development throughoutNietzsche’s career. Ivan Soll discusses the importance of disinterested contemplation in the context ofNietzsche’s aesthetics, but does not draw out the historiographical relevance that I demonstrate here; seeSoll (i99i). Burnham and Jesinghausen concentrate on Anschauungas part oftheir analysis ofthe intricacyof GTs first sentence, but note mostly its Kantian background. See Burnham and Jesinghausen (2010),3off. James Porter maintains that Nietzsche was ironically posing the ‘immediate certainty of Anschauung, ’that he never intended to move beyond intentionally posed conflicting appearances, and that themetaphysics which would support this ironical stance is perfectly consistent throughout Nietzsche'sthinking. See Porter (2000b), 2—4, 8—9, 40—42. Claudia Crawford’s account is very informative, butpasses over the romantic aspects of Anschauung. See Crawford (1998). The most thorough account is SorenReuter (2004), 3696-.
  • [3] Daniel Breazeale, for example, translates Anschauung as ‘perception,’ finding it to be the ordinary actof perceiving an object through the senses. Breazeale (1979), 41. Crawford opts not to translate it, butdefines Anschauung as “perception operating in the sense of intuitive or unconscious inferences fromthe senses, before discursive thinking in language offers the percept” Crawford (1988), 159. Thisdefinition is adequate for Nietzsche’s use in On Truth andLies and in notes from the 1870s. However,it fails to account for the Schopenhauerian overtones in Nietzsche's published usage both at this timeand in his later criticisms, specifically with respect to being an inferential knowing from the senses.
  • [4] That Kant rejects the mystical form of what he calls Intuitius Originarius is suggested at B 72 of theFirst Critique. The term ‘interesselose Anschauung’ is, of course, fundamental to Kant’s Critique ofJudgment. However, Nietzsche’s repeated conflation of interest-less Anschauung with mysticalAnschauung suggests more strongly the Schopenhauerian formulation. To my knowledge,Nietzsche only uses the term Anschauung in connection to the specifically Kantian forms of intuitiononce: NF, end 1886—spring 1887, 7[4]; KSA 12, 269.
  • [5] WWV1, §34; 1/1, 232.
  • [6] WWVi, §34; i/1, 23iff. 2 WWVi, §36; i/i, 239.
  • [7] 16 WWVii, §30; ii/2, 435.
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