Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

An Adventure in Immorality: Nietzsche's Philosophy of Immorality in 19th Century Literature
by Veroff, Rachel, M.A., The American University of Paris (France), 2013, 82; 10305702
Abstract (Summary)

In this paper, I will set out to interpret Nietzsche's concepts of truth and immorality. In his writings, Nietzsche deploys two contradictory understandings of truth: one that locates truth “inside” life (in symbolic truths, in false truths), and one that locates truth “outside” life (in the beyond). I will argue that this contradiction is no mistake, but actually a defining quality of modern human existence. Modernity has been characterized by a sudden focus on contradiction and disjuncture, most notably the disjuncture between the appearance of a thing and the thing in itself. Man's will to truth shuttles back and forth between embracing objects in life as real and rejecting them as worldly and false. The ascetic's will to truth compels him to reject all worldly objects, while the hedonist's compels him to consume them all. Most men struggle somewhere along the spectrum in between these two extremes.

Nietzsche complains that modern society has fallen into a state of nihilism and stagnation precisely because of this deadlock created by the dichotomization of truth and appearance. We will never find truth as long as we view life in these oppositional terms, he argues. Any logic that dichotomizes right and wrong is inherently flat and self-defeating. What Nietzsche proposes is a moral self-overcoming, a transcendence in our relationship to the contradictory nature of truth. He proposes that we move “beyond good and evil”. It is important to note that Nietzsche's philosophy of immorality does not oppose itself to morality as such. It does not celebrate evil as opposed to good, or appearance as opposed to truth. Just this: it abandons the opposition altogether in order to celebrate life. “Beyond good and evil” refers to a model of truth that embraces contradiction itself, that encourages the spirit to interact with the world, to engage, to struggle, to create and to play, to enjoy beauty and experience passion—in short, to love.

I will use psychoanalytic theory as a tool for interpreting these ideas from Nietzsche’s writings. I will use Lacan’s concepts of the Real and the Symbolic in order to critique the nihilistic nature of dichotomized thinking. I will show how any pair of opposites can be unfolded into a triangle, simply by reiterating the second term in the pair, thus opening a meta-dimension of understanding into the situation, and re-activating the potential for human choice and creativity. I will emphasize the importance of masks and play in modern man's negotiation of truth. Masks are essentially symbols, pure appearance, and so necessarily untrue by themselves. Why should the truth-seeking man bother to play with masks and appearances? The answer can be found in Lacan's theory of the relationship between knowledge and jouissance, the idea that all symbols carry an excess of meaning, which can only be appreciated in juxtaposition. Truth refers to precisely this experience. Truth is an essentially aesthetic experience—more than that, it is an essentially creative experience. Nietzsche complains that we are currently living in an age of nihilism because of the fetters of Christian morality, which tries to isolate truth as something separate from the apparent, everyday world.

In order to illustrate my reading of Nietzsche's philosophy, I will examine two novels: Le Comte de Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas and The Master of Ballantrae by Robert Louis Stevenson. These are both nineteenth-century adventure stories, complete with pirate ships, buried treasure, and duels to the death. They both feature larger-than-life heroes of questionable moral character: villain-like heroes—Nietzschian heroes. They also each represent particularly modern moments in European history: Napoleon's Hundred Day conquest of Paris, and the beginning of the decline of the British colonial empire, respectively. They are therefore ideal texts with which to explore and critique Nietzsche's theories of truth and immorality.

Ultimately, the question I am setting out to answer in this paper is how these notions of the “will to truth” and “beyond good and evil” are necessary to the aesthetic and philosophical experiences of men. Freedom from the constraints of moral thinking does not equate to a freedom from self-discipline. For example, hedonism is clearly not the solution to the nihilism of asceticism. The liberation of the truth-seeking spirit does not mean the end of human suffering, or the end of struggling. It perhaps marks only the beginning of a new era in philosophical pursuit, one in which the object of the will is still truth, but in which the means are even less evident. Plato taught that the greatest way a man can spend his life is in the creation and contemplation of beauty. This is a notion that I have returned to continuously throughout the writing of this thesis. In the following pages, I will attempt to illustrate the connection between truth, immorality, and creative fulfillment.

Indexing (document details)
School: The American University of Paris (France)
Department: Cultural Translation
School Location: France
Source: MAI 56/02M(E), Masters Abstracts International
Subjects: Romance literature, Philosophy, British and Irish literature
Keywords: Dumas, Alexandre, France, Immorality, Nietzsche, Friedrich, Scotland, Stevenson, Robert Louis, Truth
Publication Number: 10305702
ISBN: 9781369492668
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