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Leiter on Nietzsche



Regular readers will know that I often owe my material for this blog to Brian Leiter, of the University of Chicago, and more pertinently (just now) proprietor of the wonderful philosophy blog Leiter Reports. 

This will be another example. Here is a piece of an essay on the interpretation of Nietzsche's philosophy that Leiter published back in 1992. He has recently posted it on his blog, indicating that he still believes it worth discussing (there are many things I was writing in 1992 of which I would not say the same, of which I will never be posting here.)

So ... this is Leiter, controverting one important interpretation of Nietzsche:

Alexander Nehamas’s 1985 book Nietzsche: Life as a Literature offers an elegant synthesis of themes from other (then au courant) readings of Nietzsche by Jacques Derrida, Sarah Kofman, Paul DeMan, and Richard Rorty. He effected this synthesis primarily through the introduction of a novel interpretive rubric: what Nehamas calls "aestheticism." According to aestheticism, "Nietzsche... looks at [the world] as if it were a literary text. And he arrives at many of his views of human beings by generalizing to them ideas and principles that apply almost intuitively to the literary situation, to the creation and interpretation of literary texts and characters". For Nehamas, then, the literary text is Nietzsche's "overarching metaphor" (164), the "model" he "always depended on" (194) in pursuing his philosophical inquiries, "the single thread running through" his work.

I show that aestheticism is, in fact, not Nietzsche’s view, and that Nehamas fails to adduce a single passage from Nietzsche in which he actually embraces aestheticism. I also show how aestheticism leads Nehamas to an idiosyncratic reading of Nietzsche’s "positive" ethical views. I conclude that this intelligent but sometimes idiosyncratic book is not really about Nietzsche.

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The image above, btw, is of the campus of the aforementioned University of Chicago. 

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