Friday, October 12, 2012

Nietzsche as Stylist and Celebrity

 (  Originally written and posted on MySpace on  December 24, 2007 )
Probably Byron was the first modern creative writer who successfully marketed himself as a celebrity.   Long before the age of photography and illustrated newspapers, his name was recognized by millions.   Schopenhauer first saw Byron when he was in Italy with his Italian mistress.   She alerted him to the presence of Byron, the handsome Englishman.   Schopenhauer was fearful that the glamorous Byron would steal her away from him!   The most recent avatar of this writer-as-celebrity tradition was probably the late Norman Mailer.  From Byron to Mailer, the writer-as-celebrity has known how to build the circulation of his works.

Only somewhat after the time of Byron did the creative writer discover how to be taken seriously by the critics of academe in addition to the critics of the press.  Fame generated by the press could be fleeting, but fame generated in the departments of academe is also longed for by creative writers.   Was it James Joyce who pioneered in the technique of playing to the audience of academic critics by writing obscurely?   The results are evident.   Articles on Joyce's novels still fill up the pages of the refereed journals, but there are few articles on Robert Louis Stevenson,  who was too close to being a simple storyteller.

Even philosophers early discovered that obscurity extended their "shelf life."   Again, the journals of philosophy are full of articles essaying an explication of the murky writings of Hegel,  while the straightforward Schopenhauer wins not even a slight fraction of as much attention.   (Being basically conservative in his societal impact is probably another reason for the neglect of Schopenhauer.)  The late Jacques Derrida was the latest practitioner of the higher obscurity.   His acolytes fill up the pages not only of philosophy journals, but also the journals of literary-critical theory.

One hesitates to place Nietzsche among the practitioners of the higher obscurity, much less to regard him as one who consciously sought celebrity.   It was only after his collapse into insanity that Nietzsche was catapulted to the heights of celebrity.   Next to Socrates, he is probably best-known philosopher of today.  Even Jean-Paul Sartre, who was a vigorous self-promoter, has gone into a kind of eclipse, but Nietzsche is still a figure of urban legend.    Everyone has seen somewhere this famous graffito:   "God is Dead!" --  Nietzsche.   "Nietzsche is dead!"  --  God.

Nietzsche may have been less a conscious practitioner of the higher obscurity than a virtuoso of stylists.   He occupied a pivotal point between being a poet and being a philosopher, never being simply reducible to one or the other.   Rogerio Miranda de Almeida makes the following observation in his book Nietzsche and Paradox :   

     " The old adage that one cannot dissociate an author from his or her style gains considerable force if one considers the variety of styles, genres, and tropes that serve Nietzsche as a means of expressing a thought that is itself multiform and paradoxical.   He has effectively cultivated poetry, aphorism, autobiography, dialogues, philosophical treatises, maxims, parables, and proverbs. "





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