Nietzsche’s Socrates: The Anti-artist Par Excellence

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Nietzsche’s Socrates: The Anti-artist Par Excellence

William C. Ferleman

431 Trant Street

Edwardsville, KS 66111-1229


Friedrich Nietzsche’s high-praise of esthetics and art (tragic art) is well known. No doubt, an artist’s metaphysics formed the background of his whole perspective, of his whole philosophy. We learn as much from his phenomenal first work, The Birth of Tragedy. From Nietzsche’s art-centered view of the world, he directed his critical-scholarly efforts towards sounding out those forces—be they individuals or philosophies—which stood hostile to art (life). He addictively called these antagonistic forces decadents and nihilists, or derivatives of them. This sounding out was the most noble and arduous of tasks—because for Nietzsche, art and life were inseparable. If one slandered art then one slandered life and vice versa. Appropriately, Nietzsche found much of the ancient and modern world problematical, objectionable, and even contemptible.

Socrates was the paragon of the nihilist-decadent in ancient Greece. Hence, Nietzsche found him fascinating and complex, a delightful study. Being the noblest decadent, Socrates would demand more of Nietzsche’s time and focus, as Socrates would reveal much about the decadence of the time in which he lived. But Socrates would reveal more than this, too. With this in mind, Nietzsche, with nose for nuance, penetrated the demonic soul of Socrates. Nietzsche thoroughly examined and diagnosed the finest specimen of decadence. Of course, Nietzsche knew that as the paragon of nihilism, Socrates was also the quintessential anti-artist. Socrates not only opposed life-- he also opposed art. An “artistic Socrates” is in fact a contradiction. Socrates was a long time sick. Socrates wanted to die…
In this paper, Nietzsche’s artistic viewpoint and critical insight into decadence-- Socrates’ case in particular-- will be referenced in order to determine what might constitute the artist. From Nietzsche’s extended excursions into the abyss of Socrates’ problem—which is fundamentally a problem of instincts—just what it is that Nietzsche considered artistic can be inferred. In short, from study of the anti-artist Socrates, Nietzsche’s view of the artist(ic), at least in part, can be divulged. It will be shown that Nietzsche’s artist affirms life in all its beauty and terror, despair and happiness. He appreciates the power of illusion. He accepts and orders his instincts. He does not seek deliverance--he finds suffering beneficial. He wants to perish from living. The artistic is the abundant feeling of life, the attainment of Apollinian-Dionysian synthesis. Socrates’ problem of de rigeur rationalism will be analyzed first; study of his depraved, tortured instincts will follow. The paper will conclude with Nietzsche’s view of the artist, based upon his severe but poignant examination of Socrates. Friedrich Nietzsche, due to his inexorable devotion to life and art, found Socrates an objection—but also an affirmation. From extended analysis of Socrates’ degeneracy, what is nobly artistic and Yes-saying can be revealed. The artist is born again. From Socrates the artist(ic) regenerates!

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