Nietzsche's Portraiture: Wagner As Worthy Opponent

3379 words - 14 pages

Nietzsche's Portraiture: Wagner as Worthy Opponent

ABSTRACT: Richard Wagner always represented for Nietzsche the Germany of that time. By examining Nietzsche's relationship to Wagner throughout his writings, one is also examining Nietzsche's relationship to his culture of birth. I focus on the writings from the late period in order to clarify Nietzsche's view of his own project regarding German culture. I show that Nietzsche created a portrait of Wagner in which the composer was a worthy opponent-someone with whom he disagreed but viewed as an equal. Wagner was such an opponent because he represented the disease of decadence which plagued the culture and from which Nietzsche suffered ...view middle of the document...

I show that in the late period Nietzsche created a portrait of Wagner in which the composer was a worthy opponent; meaning someone with whom Nietzsche disagreed but viewed as an equal. Nietzsche himself took on several worthy opponents, and he claimed that in his battle with "these objects of resistance" he learned about himself. Wagner was such an object of resistance because he represented the disease of decadence which plagued the culture and from which Nietzsche emphasized his overcoming. The goal of this portraiture was to demonstrate on an individual level what could be done on a cultural level to revitalize the culture and make it healthy. The paper is divided into 3 parts: in the first part I define decadence and Nietzsche's relationship to it, in the second part I state Nietzsche's four criteria for his worthy opponents, and in the final part, I sketch Nietzsche's portrait of Wagner in the late works; namely as a worthy opponent because the composer was the personification of decadence.

Nietzsche and Decadence

While Nietzsche used the term "decadence" throughout his published writings, in the late works he used it more frequently, and it took on the status of a technical term. Decadence, for Nietzsche, refers to the decay of values, which Nietzsche thought was inevitable because they are basically rationales for existence, and since there is no objective truth they can only be subjectively true-true only for certain people and certain times. When they are no longer true, they decay. Nietzsche claimed that decadence was the problem which "preoccupied [him] more profoundly" than any other because this inevitable decay of values was a threat to the culture, and by extension, the human species. (1) Values or rationales for existence are so important because in order to survive, let alone flourish, human beings require the creation of values. These values provide rationales for why we suffer and aid us in surviving and hopefully flourishing in spite of that suffering. (2) Without them, Nietzsche claimed that we would be in a condition of nihilism which would lead to mass suicide. Since Nietzsche placed value on a culture based on the type of great, flourishing individuals it produces, if its values are in decay, then it will be unable to produce these great individuals and it will be in decay. This then is the paradox of decadence: human beings have to create values, but any values that they will create will eventually decay.

Nietzsche contended that in post-Socratic western cultures, the proposed solutions to this "problem of decadence" had been unhealthy. In general, they had created values whose goal was to protect the weakest type of human beings from the inherent meaninglessness of life by claiming that there was objective truth, and instead of helping the culture to flourish, it had led to what Nietzsche saw as an encroaching nihilism as this objective truth had begun to outlive its usefulness ( e.g. "God is dead"). In short,...

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