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Nietzsche and Aesthetic Distance 

Tim Stoll (Birkbeck)

A core contention of Nietzsche’s philosophy is that art helps us affirm life by somehow reconciling us to what is ugly or otherwise undesirable about it. One common reading takes his view to be that art beautifies reality, lending us a sort of salutary fiction about its quality. This reading conflicts with Nietzsche’s insistence that genuine affirmation of life must not depend on concealing from oneself life’s less savoury features and occasional indications that art should emphasize precisely such features. I present an alternative interpretation that resolves the apparent tension. Following Friedrich Schiller, Nietzsche holds that art “distances” us from its content by allowing us to remain affectively disengaged in a certain sense. On Nietzsche’s view, the psychic state involved here resembles, along crucial dimensions, the cheerful insouciance and strength of will characteristic of the noble psychology. I will make some comments about the relation between the above conception of aesthetic distance and Nietzsche’s well-known critique of Kant’s and Schopenhauer’s conception of disinterested aesthetic pleasure.

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