Philosophy and/or Literature: The Case of Nietzsche

Which is more important: the artistic merit of Nietzsche’s writing, or its philosophical content? A similar question could be asked about Plato. Dialogues such as the Apology and Republic are works of art that also convey philosophical arguments.

Let’s take a look at a passage from The Anti-Christ §11. (I’ve compressed it a bit.)

A word now against Kant as a moralist. A virtue must be our invention; it must spring out of our personal need and defence. In every other case it is a source of danger. That which does not belong to our life menaces it; a virtue which has its roots in mere respect for the concept of “virtue,” as Kant would have it, is pernicious. Quite the contrary is demanded by the most profound laws of self-preservation and of growth: to wit, that every man find his own virtue, his own categorical imperative. Nothing works a more complete and penetrating disaster than every “impersonal” duty, every sacrifice before the Moloch of abstraction. Continue reading

Finding a Way

Late in 1971, when I was 16, during a visit to the Santa Ana Public Library (in Southern California), I had a dramatic aesthetic experience.

At this point I had read fairly widely. I knew Hawthorne, Twain, Thoreau, Whitman, and Melville, Kafka and Sartre, Huxley and Orwell (Down and Out in Paris and London as well as Animal Farm). I’d read (or read at) Russell and Wittgenstein, Nietzsche, Marx, and Freud, and people like B.F. Skinner, Buckminster Fuller, Arthur Koestler, Lewis Mumford, Marshall McLuhan, Tom Wolfe, and Joan Didion. I’d seen paintings by Picasso and heard Stravinsky, Wagner, and Morton Subotnick.

I was always on the lookout for more, though I didn’t always have a clear idea of what I was looking for.

That afternoon in 1971, however, I did know. I had come for a copy of Molloy, which I wanted to read after having seen a PBS broadcast called Beginning to End in which the Irish actor Jack MacGowran, dressed in a thick black cloak, stands in the Mojave Desert and recites passages from the works of Samuel Beckett.

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