NIETZSCHE'S CONCEPTION OF THE BODY

RICHARD ARTHUR SPINELLO, Fordham University

Abstract

The purpose of this dissertation is to explain Nietzsche's unsystematic reflections on the human body and to relate these reflections to the other key themes in his philosophy.^ A genetic approach to this topic seemed to be the most coherent way of proceeding. Hence, we begin by illustrating the influence of Schopenhauer in Nietzsche's first work, The Birth of Tragedy. Schopenhauer gives a special prominence to the body in his philosophy, considering it as a primary phenomenon of the cosmic Will. Nietzsche was inspired by this idea, and he introduces his own notion of the body as a symbol of the Will. The body is presented as the only metaphor which can suggest the ceaseless striving of the Will.^ We then consider the works of Nietzsche's intermediary period such as Human, All-Too Human and The Dawn. Here Nietzsche implicitly defines the self as the body, though this claim cannot be understood too literally. The term "body" is a metaphorical way of describing the self not as a soul or simple substance but as an aggregate of forces or drives. In these same works Nietzsche develops a strong critique of consciousness and a highly positive evaluation of our instincts and emotions, the most important of those inner forces which comprise the self.^ As we move into Nietzsche's mature works such as Thus Spoke Zarathustra and The Genealogy of Morals we examine his attack on negative attitudes towards the body. In his estimation, belief in ethereal realities like the soul is a form of nihilism, since it represents an implicit denial of man's true self, the body. He regards the Christian tradition as especially culpable of such a nihilistic attitude, since it considered the body as an inferior and inessential part of man.^ Throughout these same works Nietzsche elaborates on the notion that the self is not a soul or transcendental ego. In Zarathustra he refers to the self as a plurality, i.e. an aggregate of forces such as instincts and emotions which are struggling to gain control over one another. The self is an "oligarchy," a complex of forces which is always unified under the provisional hegemony of one or more of those forces.^ Once this conception of the self is clarified, we examine how it relates to the main themes of Nietzsche's later philosophy: the will-to-power, the overman, and eternal return.^ Finally, we consider the role which the body plays in Nietzsche's epistemology of perspectivism and his aesthetics. Nietzsche stresses that we are embodied thinkers who cannot engage in pure thinking which is uncontaminated by the senses and emotions. It is impossible to reach or know pure essences which are beyond individual perspectives. Moreover, the body is the real ground of those perspectives or interpretations. These comments on perspectivism point to Nietzsche's artistic view of reality which he saw as too rich and variegated to be definitely described by one set of concepts or categories. Nietzsche contends that the most illuminating perspectives are those of the artists. Also, he emphasizes the need for a physical metamorphosis through the feeling of rapture or intoxication (Rausch) as a necessary condition of artistic activity and as a means of generating the richest and most inspiring perspectives.^ The thesis concludes with a critical evaluation. Here we criticize Nietzsche's strong tendency to psychologize in his own criticisms and point out the problems with some of his other positions, such as his notion of the self as a plurality. ^

Subject Area

Philosophy

Recommended Citation

SPINELLO, RICHARD ARTHUR, "NIETZSCHE'S CONCEPTION OF THE BODY" (1981). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI8111318.
http://fordham.bepress.com/dissertations/AAI8111318

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