Contesting Spirit

Contesting Spirit: Nietzsche, Affirmation, Religion

TYLER T. ROBERTS
Copyright Date: 1998
Pages: 244
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7sjd2
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Contesting Spirit
    Book Description:

    Challenging the dominant scholarly consensus that Nietzsche is simply an enemy of religion, Tyler Roberts examines the place of religion in Nietzsche's thought and Nietzsche's thought as a site of religion. Roberts argues that Nietzsche's conceptualization and cultivation of an affirmative self require that we interrogate the ambiguities that mark his criticisms of asceticism and mysticism. What emerges is a vision of Nietzsche's philosophy as the enactment of a spiritual quest informed by transfigured versions of religious tropes and practices.

    Nietzsche criticizes the ascetic hatred of the body and this-worldly life, yet engages in rigorous practices of self-denial--he sees philosophy as such a practice--and affirms the need of imposing suffering on oneself in order to enhance the spirit. He dismisses the "intoxication" of mysticism, yet links mysticism, power, and creativity, and describes his own self-transcending experiences. The tensions in his relation to religion are closely related to that between negation and affirmation in his thinking in general. In Roberts's view, Nietzsche's transfigurations of religion offer resources for a postmodern religious imagination. Though as a "master of suspicion," Nietzsche, with Freud and Marx, is an integral part of modern antireligion, he has the power to take us beyond the flat, modern distinction between the secular and the religious--a distinction that, at the end of modernity, begs to be reexamined.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2261-4
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. NOTE ON TEXTS AND CITATIONS
    (pp. xi-2)
  5. Introduction NIETZSCHE AND RELIGION
    (pp. 3-23)

    In 1886, at the height of his powers as writer and thinker, Friedrich Nietzsche wrote a series of prefaces for new editions of his early works.¹ As autobiography, they embellish the plain facts of his life; as philosophy, they say more about what Nietzsche was thinking in 1886 than about the early texts with which they are concerned. Still, they disclose a vibrant and paradoxical vision of Nietzsche as a thinker. Read together, the new prefaces narrate the trajectory of Nietzsche’s writing and thinking as a life that transpired between hopeless disillusion and the joy of love’s recovery. In the...

  6. Chapter One TOO MUCH OF NOTHING: METAPHYSICS AND THE VALUE OF EXISTENCE
    (pp. 24-47)

    In the 1886 preface to his first book,The Birth of Tragedy(originally published in 1872), Nietzsche offered a critical review of that book’s attempt to grapple with the question, What is the value of existence? By 1886 the significance of the question had changed for him, yet it continued to occupy his reflections on affirmation. The new preface recalls how he had tried to pose the problem of the value of existence by contrasting the “pessimism” of Greek tragedy and the “optimism” of Socratic philosophy. Nietzsche had claimed that with the demise of tragic sensibility Western culture had lost...

  7. Chapter Two FIGURING RELIGION, CONTESTING SPIRIT
    (pp. 48-76)

    With freud and marx, Nietzsche is widely regarded as one of the modern period’s original and most influential “masters of suspicion.” Like their Enlightenment predecessors, each of these thinkers held the critique of religion as an important key to overcoming the discontents of humankind and realizing human autonomy. At the same time, each went beyond Enlightenment conceptions of reason and superstition to develop deep critical readings of religion that sought to account for the hold it exerted on human beings. In the case of Nietzsche, the quintessential modern vision of the liberation from religion leading to human progress is especially...

  8. Chapter Three NIETZSCHE’S ASCETICISM
    (pp. 77-102)

    The monstrous, mad power of the ascetic fascinated Nietzsche. In one of his earliest discussions of asceticism—fromDawn—Nietzsche writes with the piercing voice of a “solitary and agitated mind”:

    Ah, give me madness, you heavenly powers! Madness, that I may at last believe in myself! Give deliriums and convulsions, sudden lights and darkness, terrify me with frost and fire such that no mortal has ever felt, with deafening din and prowling figures, make me howl and whine and crawl like a beast: so that I may only come to believe in myself!. . . Prove to me that...

  9. Chapter Four THE PROBLEM OF MYSTICISM IN NIETZSCHE
    (pp. 103-137)

    In the remaining chapters of the book, I discuss the mystical elements of Nietzsche’s thought. These are central to Nietzsche’s affirmative vision and are the proper context for understanding Nietzsche’s asceticism. Yet they are more difficult to specify than the ascetic aspects, for Nietzsche did not treat mysticism, even critically, in nearly as much depth as he treated asceticism: one rarely finds the wordsmysticormysticismin his writing, and the issue of mysticism has not been an important one for Nietzsche’s commentators.¹ But I will argue that mysticism, properly understood, can give us great insight into Nietzsche’s thought....

  10. Chapter Five ECSTATIC PHILOSOPHY
    (pp. 138-163)

    It is one thing to claim thatZarathustracontains writing that one might describe as mystical or ecstatic poetry, it is another to claim that there is a mystical element pervading Nietzsche’s thought in general. What is the relevance ofZarathustrafor Nietzsche’s later work? One might argue that the ecstatic poetry of Nietzsche’s enigmatic “gift” is actually a parody of mystical affirmations, or an ironic warning against overexuberant hopes and loves. Given Nietzsche’s attack on ascetic practices and mystical states in theGenealogy, such an interpretation cannot be dismissed. Yet, Nietzsche’s later writing, viewed with a discerning eye, also...

  11. Chapter Six NIETZSCHE’S AFFIRMATION: A PASSION FOR THE REAL
    (pp. 164-201)

    Throughout his life, Nietzsche remained wedded to the Schopenhauerian idea that suffering was constitutive of the human condition. As he puts it inTwilight of the Idols, “all becoming and growing . . . postulates pain” (TI: 120). Yet, Nietzschean affirmation takes shape in the resistance to Schopenhauer’s conclusion that the denial of life is the ultimate human response to this condition and that such denial—exemplified in the saint—is definitive of holiness. Nietzsche did not share Schopenhauer’s estimation of the Christian saint, but he nevertheless remained fascinated with the way that the religious virtuoso used renunciation, intoxication, and...

  12. Conclusion ALTERITY AND AFFIRMATION
    (pp. 202-214)

    I began with the prefaces of 1886 and Nietzsche’s celebration of a life rejuvenated in the recovery of health and love. By the turn of the new year 1889, Nietzsche had fallen into madness, where he would remain for the final ten years of his life. In the months leading up to his collapse, Nietzsche had been working at a feverish pace, and at times had experienced intense feelings of euphoria. Some of his most “affirmative” statements come out of this period, particularly inEcce Homo. We do not know why Nietzsche went mad—whether he suffered from a congenital...

  13. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 215-224)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 225-230)