Nietzsche and Aestheticism

Journal of the History of Philosophy 30 (1992): 275-230

17 Pages Posted: 28 Jul 2017

Date Written: April 25, 1992


Alexander Nehamas’s 1985 book Nietzsche: Life as a Literature offers an elegant synthesis of themes from other (then au courant) readings of Nietzsche by Jacques Derrida, Sarah Kofman, Paul DeMan, and Richard Rorty. He effected this synthesis primarily through the introduction of a novel interpretive rubric: what Nehamas calls "aestheticism." According to aestheticism, "Nietzsche... looks at [the world] as if it were a literary text. And he arrives at many of his views of human beings by generalizing to them ideas and principles that apply almost intuitively to the literary situation, to the creation and interpretation of literary texts and characters". For Nehamas, then, the literary text is Nietzsche's "overarching metaphor" (164), the "model" he "always depended on" (194) in pursuing his philosophical inquiries, "the single thread running through" his work.

I show that aestheticism is, in fact, not Nietzsche’s view, and that Nehamas fails to adduce a single passage from Nietzsche in which he actually embraces aestheticism. I also show how aestheticism leads Nehamas to an idiosyncratic reading of Nietzsche’s "positive" ethical views. I conclude that this intelligent but sometimes idiosyncratic book is not really about Nietzsche.

Keywords: Nietzsche, Alexander Nehamas, Paul DeMan, aestheticism, literary interpretation, naturalism

Suggested Citation

Leiter, Brian, Nietzsche and Aestheticism (April 25, 1992). Journal of the History of Philosophy 30 (1992): 275-230, Available at SSRN:

Brian Leiter (Contact Author)

University of Chicago ( email )

1111 E. 60th St.
Chicago, IL 60637
United States

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