Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Nietzsche's Poet-Philosopher: Toward a Poetics of Response-Ability, Possibility, and the Future

Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Nietzsche's Poet-Philosopher: Toward a Poetics of Response-Ability, Possibility, and the Future

Article excerpt

This essay examines the role of the poet in Nietzsche's prose, focusing on three attributes to Nietzsche's discussion: the poet and philosopher as single entity; the poet-philosopher's responsibility for maintaining the ability to respond; and the poet-philosopher's responsibility for discovering possibilities oriented toward the future.

As a thinker whose styles and epistemology constellate around his reputation as a philosopher-poet, Friedrich Nietzsche presents scholars with a variety of troublesome questions, one of which is whether or not to consider him primarily poet or primarily philosopher. The inception and persistence of this question are due to his untimely methods, espousals, and contentions. A superficial example of this untimeliness is the sub-title of his book, Beyond Good and Evil: "Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future." He defies the systematic rationalizing of his precursors not just in form, but also in content; so not only was he unfashionable, but he also claimed to be and was anticipatory. Responses to his untimeliness vary: sometimes dismissed for his aesthetic style, sometimes dismissive of his aesthetic style, and sometimes aggressive in defending his poetry as being as significant as his prose. Still, some scholars tend to read his style as a demonstration of his philosophy. In other words, when Nietzsche writes that "the drive toward the formation of metaphors is the fundamental human drive" (Philosophy 88), he knows that he is not above such a drive and therefore highlights and manipulates the use of metaphor in his own work. In light of such a claim, scholars such as Sarah Kofman and Alexander Nehamas begin to imagine a Nietzschean poetics, or praxis. While Kofman, for example, in Nietzsche and Metaphor, does a thorough job of describing how Nietzsche is a poet by virtue of his use of a metaphorical tactic, this essay is concerned not with Nietzsche as poet, but with the Nietzschean poet.

To be precise, I am most interested in Nietzsche's descriptive poetics--by which I mean Nietzsche's descriptions, characterizations, espousals, and chastisements of the poet--and their importance for his ethics. In considering who is/are the poets in Nietzsche's work, I am seeking what kind of prescriptions Nietzsche offers for a responsible poetry--an ethical art. This essay does not concern itself with the actual historical poets that Nietzsche esteemed, such as Goethe, Holderlin, or Byron. Neither does the essay consider the lyrical style of Nietzsche's prose or even the significance of Nietzsche's poetry. These aspects have been explored in previous scholarship (though not in equal proportion to one another), which is not to say that these discussions have not been foundational. Unfortunately, however, the scholarship that addresses these issues and from which I draw support dates to before the year 2000. Another aim here, then, is to rectify a lull in attention paid to Nietzsche's importance to discussions of poetic responsibility, particularly for the post-9/11 world.

Describing the relative absence of work on Nietzsche's poetry as an impetus for scholarship, Philip Grundlehner writes: "None of the Nietzsche renaissances of the past seventy-five years has fully recognized his stature as a poet" (xi). Exceptions to this claim include the work of Erich Heller in The Poet's Self and the Poet: Essays of Goethe, Nietzsche, Rilke and Thomas Mann and Thomas Hanna in The Lyrical Existentialists as well as the efforts by the Nietzsche Circle to create an online philosophical community "devoted to the question: What kind of art is vital to our existence?" (par. 1). I am struck, however, by Grundlehner's reasons for the relative lack of scholarship on Nietzsche's poetry: because "he rarely published it separately from his philosophical writings" and because of his "own disparaging remarks about the nature of poetry during all phases of his development" (xii). Grundlehner considers Nietzsche's actual poems integral to his philosophy, and it is this inclusion that incites a desire to consider Nietzsche's explicit references to the role of the poet. …

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