In this essay the author will be analysing Nietzsche’s ‘aesthetic of existence’ from the perspective of modes of reasoning derived from Baudrillard’s theory of consumption from as outlined in his The Consumer Society (1999). The author will first define the different types of reasoning that Nietzsche saw as either life-affirming or life-negating. For Nietzsche, if theory springs out of a need to bolster life, this type of reasoning becomes a form of artistic activity and so becomes life-affirming. ‘Life-affirming’ here means to embrace the ugliness and suffering of life along with its beauty and joy. However, if the role of reasoning is to objectify life, form categories, create fragmentation, and appeal to something independent of ourselves, such as rationality appeals to truth, this for Nietzsche was Socratism and ultimately life-denying.[i] ‘Life-denying’ here means to turn away from life as a maelstrom of experiences than cannot be neatly labelled towards a logical structuring of experience, devoid of nuance or chaos. Next the author compares Nietzsche’s and Baudrillard’s linear processes for real/ apparent world inversion. For Baudrillard, the real/unreal distinctions have collapsed in on themselves in which ‘the real’ has been lost. However, dualisms such as ‘the real’ and ‘the unreal’ have been maintained by a system of production that aims at a new form of nihilism, one where we are constantly chasing unattainable ideals – or what the author has termed an aesthetics of capitalism. From this situation it is argued that Nietzsche and Baudrillard were writing with the same vision in mind but whereas Nietzsche was looking to combat the effects of religion, we have a different replicator of reality dualisms in Baudrillard’s theory of consumption by replacing the idea of ‘God’ with that of material perfection. Here Nietzsche’s ideas about the ‘aesthetics of existence’ can be used to combat the nihilistic world view that Baudrillard describes. Both Nietzsche’s and Baudrillard’s processes of turning real/apparent upside down, it will be argue, are part of the same vision for humanity but what stops humanity from a trans-valuation of values, i.e. doing away with right/wrong, good/bad, is that the capitalist aesthetic only supports the ‘life-negating’ forms of reasoning.
The author’s position takes the form of a weak interpretation of Baudrillard’s work, in that when he uses the language of Baudrillard such as ‘the real does not exist’; he will not be arguing that there is no such thing as reality. The author intends to use those terms in the same way Nietzsche uses ‘morality’, in that certain categories have attained a semi-religious, transcendental meaning, in which their value and origin is located ‘out there’ beyond human experience. In this onto-epistemological framework ‘truth’ and ‘real’ are not part of this world, but exist independently. It is from these conceptions of values that Nietzsche and to a certain extent Baudrillard wishes us to escape. We cannot regard truth as independent of the things it describes, so in this sense it is not ‘other-worldly’ and it does not occupy any platonic realm as Baudrillard implies with the original ‘real’, too which we no longer have access.
I. An Aesthetic of Reasoning
In Nietzsche’s view any activity that attempts to give meaning to existence is fundamentally an aesthetic activity; reasoning itself is seen as performing an aesthetic function, it can give meaning to life by allowing the individual to have an intelligible understanding of their own existence. In The Birth of Tragedy Nietzsche lays the foundations for the ‘aesthetics of reason’, Shutte notes “under the first aspect reason gives form and meaning to things but is fundamentally sterile because it functions in alienation from the dynamic richness of the artistic process”.[ii] Here reason has as its goal the purification of experience. On the other hand, there is an artistic creativity in the theoretical process in so far as it aims to give meaning to life. Where theory abstracts from life, Nietzsche calls it ‘alienating’, however, if that theorizing is life enhancing it becomes artistic, and gives an artistic justification to existence, which for Nietzsche is the only valid reason for having order and meaning to life. Nietzsche also calls the alienating mode of reasoning “Socratism” whereby ‘life’ is abstracted, and made to fit artificial categories so existence becomes logical.[iii] This, for Nietzsche, is to treat life as an object to be manipulated, not seen as a dynamic process from which we emerge. However, if reasoning recognises the chaotic, dynamic, and arbitrariness of life, it is then life-affirming. “For if there is no intrinsic order in things, how wonderful, then – and indeed, how much more wonderful – that one should have managed to invent so many beautiful stories, to forge so many daring conceptual schemes, to dance so many daring and improbable dances”.[iv]
II. The Real into the Apparent
Nietzsche took life in the real world and not in the apparent as the only thing of meaning, and its preservation and enhancement to be crucial for the determination of value. For Nietzsche it was religion that had duped the world, making every value an un-value, reproducing in every individual the conditions for keeping itself weak. It was here that Nietzsche wished for a trans-valuation of values, and saw a central role for art in this project. His vision aimed at doing away with the apparent world, God and morality, and instead asked those with the will-to-power, to seek life eternally in all its rawness. Baudrillard on the other hand argues that there is no longer any original ‘profound reality’; this has now been consumed by endless image reproduction and simulation. In a world of pure simulation, one cannot say what is real, there is no truth with regards to foundational objects, or means by which to compare good or bad as there is no fixed background reality with which to compare it to. It is a state similar to this that I think Nietzsche was proposing, when he writes,
“We have abolished the real world: what world is left? The apparent world perhaps? …But no! with the real world we have also abolished the apparent world!”.[v]
For Nietzsche, the decline of humanity began with the creation of God. Then through the institutions of religion man entered into an abusive relationship with Him. God was man in his own image but an image that can never be obtained, for God occupies a better, truer realm than this material plane, and followers are expected to live their lives in accordance with a mythical realm of perfection. Over the many years of institutional obedience, God’s realm of perfection became the real world, and the tainted world that surrounds us became the apparent world. We live for the next world and not for this one. Nietzsche saw this real-apparent world inversion to be nihilistic in the extreme, for in rejecting the importance of this world one is active in rejecting life. Nietzsche proposed that one of the antidotes to life-negation was through art.
“Art and nothing but art! It is the great means of making life possible, the great seduction to life, the great stimulant of life”.[vi]
This reality inversion was made possible by a corrupt morality that naturalises a debilitating slave-master relationship with a fictional deity. This then feeds back on itself compelling the slave to seek further solace in his master until, ultimately the master is the only source of emancipation. This is how Nietzsche viewed religion and saw every value as an un-value to the point where these terms became meaningless due to such a wide-scale corruption of virtues. In Twilight of the Idols, Nietzsche outlines a six stage history of how the ‘real world’ became a myth:
1. The real world is knowable and attainable but only to the “wise, the pious” and “the virtuous man”.[vii] Everyone lives in the world of the apparent, but can transcend this through education and self-improvement.
2. Organised religion i.e. Christianity, now instruct us that the rewards we seek are in the next world, the ‘real world’ not in this one. The ‘real world’ is thus temporarily unattainable but is reachable after death.
3. Science develops from natural philosophy, severing the ‘real world’ from this world through recourse to natural explanations as opposed to super-natural. This makes God and the ‘real-world’ more abstract, now unattainable and un-demonstrable by reason.
4. The ‘real world’ as unknowable continues to be deconstructed by the pioneers of the Enlightenment.
5. The ‘real world’ of religion becomes a redundant idea and one that should be done away with. Reason would appear to have won out against superstition.
6. In doing away with the real world we do away with the apparent world and can begin to rebuild humanity. This is where Nietzsche saw the death of God and the re-evaluation of values as having its beginning.
The illness that Nietzsche saw as a result of a Christian morality, in stage two could be immunised against through the ‘intoxication’ of art, art here meaning anything that re-affirms the sickness and ecstasy of life, ultimately forcing us to be indifferent to moral imperatives.
Jean Baudrillard also made this real/apparent world distinction, primarily in his book Simulacra and Simulation (1994). For Baudrillard the world is a simulacra/simulation dualism, the real and its copy. On a weak interpretation, Baudrillard argues that a modern obsession with images and mechanical/digital replication through technological-media have fundamentally altered our world. The idea is that a constant process of ‘reality’ replication is now what we perceive to be the ‘real world’. We are now only able to experience life through a filter of preconceptions and expectations fabricated by a repository of shared images.[viii] Baudrillard like Nietzsche has a linear process for how we arrive at this state of affairs.
- “It is the reflection of a profound reality”. The first stage is a faithful image/copy; that there is a reality to copy, in what Baudrillard called “the sacramental order”.
- “It masks and denatures a profound reality”. The second stage is a perversion of reality; this is where we believe the sign to be an unfaithful copy. Here, signs and images do not faithfully show us reality, but can hint at the existence of something real which the sign itself is incapable of encapsulating.
- “It masks the absence of a profound reality” where the simulacrum pretends to be a faithful copy, but is a copy with no original. Signs and images claim to represent something real, but no representation is taking place.
- “It has no relation to any reality whatsoever: it is its own pure simulacrum”. The fourth stage is pure simulation. Here, signs become merely self-referential and any claim to reality is through nostalgia for a reality that does not exist.[ix]
For Baudrillard there is no way back as we now manufacture the real from simulation, the real is not discovered but produced. This is why for Baudrillard the “image precedes the real” and so the relationship between the real and its representation are now inverted.[x] Baudrillard does not offer the hope for the future that Nietzsche does; the best we can do is acknowledge that reality has been done away with leaving us with an authentic fake. The author, however, would like to argue that through an ‘aesthetic of reasoning’ we can make inroads into creating a genuinely meaningful interpretation of existence.
III. Abolition of the ‘Real’
On a literal reading of Baudrillard’s work, absurd conclusions are the norm and have been rightly criticised.[xi] What the author will interpret Baudrillard’s use of controversial language to mean is simply that the modern world is image saturated.[xii] The commonsense notion is that in order to have a simulation one must first have a ‘thing’ to simulate, a pre-given real. For Baudrillard this is a myth, and simulation is no longer an imitation, or copy of an original but an endless system of self-reference. This situation is not interpreted as meaning there are no ‘real’ objects or ‘reality’, but that the notion of a ‘pre-given real’ in the metaphysical sense, is problematic i.e. primary, foundational objects from which all copies arise.[xiii] This is taken to be a semi-religious notion, to have a state of perfection from which all objects are imperfect copies. However, Baudrillard’s claims become nonsensical if taken literally, when he says that there is no pure reality against which to check truth claims we take him to mean that ‘the real’ or ‘truth’ is not ‘out-there’ waiting to act on us. The original, the real, the truth as metaphysical ideas are not to be given primacy over their actual counterparts in this world, because when we do the old problems Nietzsche faced with God are supplanted with an equally life-negating dualism of secular transcendental ideals. Baudrillard expresses this ideological approach to signifiers and their signified when he talks about the Iconoclasts’ treatment of God,
“If they could have believed that these images only obfuscated or masked the Platonic Idea of God, there would have been no reason to destroy them.”[xiv]
In this sense, then, if there is no ‘real’, no ‘truth’ or ‘good’ one cannot moralise about what ought to be done. It was this situation that Nietzsche was actively trying to bring about by his philosophical work and genealogy of morals. Nietzsche is best known for his diagnosis of ‘nihilism’, where “the highest values devalue themselves”.[xv] For Nietzsche the abolition of ‘the real’ went hand-in-hand with his trans-valuation of values project. Once humanity reached the sixth stage of ‘enlightenment’ and the will-to-truth is exercised the ‘real/ apparent’, ‘good/ evil’ distinction will be swept away. “What the will to truth shows is that the dualism between good and evil is unfounded. All values - no matter how sacred – originate in the mixture between the drive for survival and the drive for self-transcendence which are constitutive of human life.”[xvi] Nietzsche too saw the use of such terms as good and evil as re-enforcing the notion of a real/apparent world dualism, that if ‘good’ exists the individual cannot possibly achieve it from living in a material, corrupt world. Nietzsche proportions blame for this inversion of thought at the feet of Plato as Tanner (1990) notes in the glossary to Twilight/ The Anti-Christ,
Nietzsche considered Plato’s theory of suprasensible forms, his ethical preoccupation and his other-worldly tendency in general as harmful to a healthy appreciation of the present world and as specific error springing from a false relationship with the actual world.[xvii]
So it is with the destruction of the real and apparent worlds that we can then begin the final stage of human emancipation from false values and re-build humanity.
Genuine ‘existence’ for Nietzsche was lived as an ‘artist’, and anything that affirmed life was art. The task of enquiry is to create new possibilities of experience, to invent new values, perspectives, and forms of life. To be a slave to categories, virtues, or sacred beliefs was to shut ones self off from the possibilities of life. Nietzsche’s answer was a trans-valuation of values, or “the deflation of the pretensions of previously established and commonly accepted moralities and values, but also the development of an evaluative scheme by reference to which ‘re-valuation’ of the things they prescribe and proscribe and commended and condemned could be carried out”[xviii]
Nietzsche proclaims the Dionysian ‘artist’ as a model for living; art in all its creativity can be a source of new values. Art and especially music were for Nietzsche the great practical antidotes to nihilism: it transfigures pain, suffering, and uncertainty into beautiful illusion or life affirming joy. Art should provide an intensification of experience from which Nietzsche gives the conditions for creativity to be born.
“For art to exist, for any sort of aesthetic activity or perception to exist, a certain physiological precondition is indispensable: intoxication.”[xix]
This ‘intoxication’ that art requires can also remedy the negation-of-life by inventing new modes of evaluation. Art has us celebrate life for what it is, rather than a morality that condemns it for what it is not. With all this said why has Nietzsche’s trans-valuation of values not taken place? An answer that is offered is that the ‘religious aesthetic’, considered life-negating by Nietzsche has been replaced with a ‘capitalist aesthetic’ which it will be argued is equally life-negating. The capitalist aesthetic supports and promotes Nietzsche’s alienating forms of reasoning, which in turn sustains the dualisms that he sought to annihilate. What-is-more, if we are unable to combat this new aesthetic experience and escape from the alienating forms of reasoning, art as understood by Nietzsche becomes impossible.
IV. The Capitalist Aesthetic
In The Consumer Society, Baudrillard develops a theory of consumption that continues this theme of inverting the real/apparent by displacing the individual from the process of consumption. He says that, “needs are not the fruits of production, but that the system of needs is the product of the system of production”.[xx] This system of needs does not precede the enjoyment of an object but is totally separate from it. “They are produced as system elements, not as relationship of individual to an object”.[xxi]
This is another slave-master relationship, in which people believe their desires to be part of a supply and demand relationship amongst which lies the perfect holiday, car, or pair of shoes. In fact they are complicit in creating desires for a ‘lived experience’ that does not exist, a world that cannot exist as imagined as it is the product of a system of production. Baudrillard tries to demonstrate this idea by the concept of ‘enforced enjoyment’. He sees fun or pleasure as something not to be sought in itself but as something that has been institutionalized, that it is every persons’ right to be happy.[xxii] The ‘happiness’ in this context seems to take on a transcendental quality but Nietzsche argued that “(its) reality is in the realm of immediacy. In no way can pleasure and pain signal to the metaphysical truths of existence”.[xxiii] For Baudrillard enforced enjoyment is a kind of reverse puritanical ethics that if we should ever feel boredom or emptiness we are then reminded that we have no right not to be happy and that this state of being is dysfunctional.[xxiv] Happiness, pleasure, enjoyment, fun all become part of a production line; every experience is consumed so that satisfaction is never guaranteed. The focus is always on the desire and not what propagates that desire for one can always look younger, have whiter teeth, or be a better parent. Baudrillard distinguishes between ‘genuine’ enjoyment and a ‘denial of enjoyment’ by what means-ends relationship we find ourselves in with regards to fun, beauty, or whatever,
Enjoyment is enjoyment for ones own benefit, but consuming is something one never does alone (this is the illusion of the consumer, meticulously sustained by the whole of the ideological discourse on consumption).[xxv]
Consumption becomes a function of production which engineers ‘desire’, so any enjoyment derived from this process is actually a ‘denial of enjoyment’ as one becomes the functional expression of a collective productive process which has no end. The individual sees themselves as an object, to be pampered – in essence to consume one-self. One is not trying to become or transcend themselves, as Nietzsche would have us do, but through alienating modes of reasoning we are trying to purify experience and treat reality as an object to be manipulated into artificial categories i.e. happiness, health, youth…etc We are trying to acquire knowledge “based on criteria of order and cleanliness” so life is intelligible and comes with pre-assigned meaning.[xxvi] We try to purchase experiences, and life-styles to obtain an untainted version of reality. For genuine enjoyment to take place one has to be removed from this relationship and be a subject acting in the world not an object being acted on.
Here, Baudrillard has pulled the Nietzschean non-world of perfection down from the firmaments and placed it in this world as a result of a system of production. It is here we have re-entered the slave-master relationship but instead of idealizing God as the realm of perfection against which we become inadequate, we have placed a false aesthetic experience – an aesthetic of capitalism.[xxvii] This would have us constantly seek the next packaged ‘authentic’ experience, our attention evermore being drawn away from the here and now. Moreover, the distinctions of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ are still with us but as defined by our expectations to be ‘happy’. The continual pursuit for happiness equates with good and everything else if it is not aimed at improved well-being or increased enjoyment equals bad.[xxviii]
From this we can make a diagnosis of the capitalist aesthetic. For Nietzsche, life affirmation could be obtained through an experience of art, where we become so intoxicated by our senses that good/bad or beauty/ugliness become fictions hiding a much more nuanced reality – once we escape these values we then become ready to start experiencing life in all its fullness. For Baudrillard it is the world of production that has been pulled over our eyes, where ‘desires’ are fabricated and as soon as one buys into this system (literally) one can never obtain the image/experience that is being consumed. This situation may be combated less by ‘intoxication’ and more by a ‘sobering up’ to our place in the process of consumption, which I’ve argued is obtainable through non-alienating modes of reasoning. Once we recognise that our desires can be produced by a system that institutionalises ‘happiness’ as its highest good, that encourages the individual to consume themselves as an object, one can then start a re-evaluation of values and enter a Nietzschean sixth stage. However, it is a commitment to the alienating forms of reasoning that seeks to purify experience that maintains a reality dualism, the world of perfect experience, to which we compare ourselves and necessarily feel wholly inadequate. There is, however, some hope in that if we see ourselves in relation to a system of production and we can actively disengage from it, and start to try and trans-evaluate what ‘values’ the capitalist aesthetic has promoted. By holding on to the values of the capitalist aesthetic and taking part in the production-consumption process we maintain all the old dualisms Nietzsche wanted to destroy, and as long as we do so, we live in denial of enjoyment, in a denial of life.
[i] Randall Havas, Socratism and Aesthetic Justification in (1998), Kemal et Al (eds.), Nietzsche, Philosophy and the Arts (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998)
[ii] Ofelia Schutte, Beyond Nihilism: Nietzsche without Masks (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1984), p.21-22.
[iii] Friedrich Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy. D. Smith (trans) (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008),
[iv] Martha C. Nussbaum, ‘The Transfiguration of Intoxication’ in (1998), Kemal et Al (eds.), Nietzsche, Philosophy and the Arts (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), p.58.The recognition that life was inherently meaningless was also important for Derrida’s reading of Nietzsche where in Spurs: Nietzsche’s Style (1979) he makes a joke of how a single aphorism can occupy thought in ‘making it fit’ the text and his systematic philosophy as a whole. The joke being that this is then the ‘correct’ version or ‘true’ version rather then being playful and accepting that it just may not make any sense.
[v] Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols/ The Anti-Christ. R. J. Hollingdale (trans.) (Middlesex: Penguin Books, 1990), p.51.
[vi] Friedrich Nietzsche, The Will to Power. W.A. Kaufmann & R.J. Hollingdale (trans.) (New York: Vintage, 1968), p.853.
[vii] Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols/ The Anti-Christ, p.50. My italics.
[viii] In order to have some sort of authentic experience of life one has to give up notions of ‘the real’ as a product of a system of production that is necessarily unattainable. What the author is eluding to in Nietzsche and Baudrillard is a type of Platonism in reverse as Deleuze calls it in The Logic of Sense (1969).
[ix] Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation. S. F. Glaser (trans.) (Michigan: University of Michigan Press, 1994), p.6. My Italics.
[x] Jean Baudrillard, ‘The Evil Demon of Images,’ In Power Institute Publications, Vol 1. (Sydney: University of Sydney, 1987), p.34.
[xi] Christopher Norris, What’s Wrong with Postmodernism: Critical Theory and the Ends of Philosophy. (Liverpool: John Hopkins University Press, 1991)
[xii] This has its ultimate expression in the ‘on-line’ world where real/digital have a synergy and challenge the old categories of real/imaginary with online extended selves or even multiple alternatives e.g. avatars.
[xiii] The foundational objects that Baudrillard is arguing against are the same ‘pre-given’ real objects Nietzsche disliked in Plato’s Forms. Baudrillard does have a sense of the ‘actual’ but argues that for objects their “immediate reality is their symbolic function as image.” Douglas Kellner, Baudrillard: A Critical Reader. (Oxford: Basil Blackwell Ltd, 1995), p.48.
[xiv] Baudrillard, ‘Simulacra and Simulation,’ p. 4–5.
[xv] Nietzsche, ‘The Will to Power,’ aphorism 2.
[xvi] Schutte ‘Beyond Nihilism: Nietzsche without Masks,’ p. 164.
[xvii] Nietzsche, ‘Twilight of the Idols/ The Anti-Christ,’ p. 206.
[xviii] Richard Schacht, Nietzsche (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1983), p. 87.
[xix] Nietzsche, ‘Twilight of the Idols/ The Anti-Christ,’ p. 82-83. Later on Nietzsche would become critical of some of the ideas in The Birth of Tragedy but still maintained that the forms of reasoning that went against the Apollonian and Dionysian modes of life negated any aesthetic value. Socratism or rationality against life’s instincts could never be a part of the artist or give rise to art.
[xx] Jean Baudrillard, (1999). The Consumer Society: Myths and Structures (London: Sage Publications, 1999), p.74.
[xxi] Ibid, p. 75.
[xxii] This has its analogous counterpart in the second stage of Nietzsche’s real/apparent world inversion. Here, however, happiness has come to replace any religious desires or compulsions.
[xxiii] Schutte ‘Beyond Nihilism: Nietzsche without Masks,’ p. 22.
[xxiv] Baudrillard, ‘The Consumer Society: Myths and Structures,’ p.75-78
[xxv] Ibid, p. 78.
[xxvi] Schutte ‘Beyond Nihilism: Nietzsche without Mask,’ p. 22.
[xxvii] The author’s term ‘aesthetic of capitalism’ is very similar to that of a term coined by Adorno and Horkheimer, that of ‘culture industry’ from Dialectic of Enlightenment (1972). Here he shares their analysis in that false needs are created by capitalism in order to perpetuate a system that keeps power away from the masses and instead substitutes genuine freedom of choice, happiness or creativity with distraction and false needs.
[xxviii] This moral value has a deep entrenchment in Western thought being considered one of the ‘unalienable rights’ of the United States Declaration of Independence “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”.