What Kind of Text is Zarathustra? By Lawrence J. Hatab

Nietzsche often articulates the meaning of appearance in terms of creativity and art. In an 1887 note he claims that truth is not “found” in reality, it is created as a manifestation of will to power (KSA 12: 9 [91]). In GS 58, Nietzsche insists that “knowledge” of “things” has its origin in historical moments of creativity bequeathed to us by innovative thinkers. Such creations are called appearances; yet with familiarity over time, such appearances harden into supposed “essences”—only to be replaced by new creations in the course of history. In his writings Nietzsche quite naturally associates the idea of creative appearance with art (BT ASC: 5); he even calls art “the good will to appearance” (GS 107). Since art had traditionally been excluded from the realm of strict truth, Nietzsche is happy to trade on the idea of “fiction” to goad a metaphysical faith by celebrating art as “deception” (GS 344). Yet we should be circumspect in considering such talk of deception replacing truth, because Nietzsche thinks that “artistic deception” is the creative characteristic of “everything that is” in nature and the mark of reality and truth (KSA 13: 11 [415]). Indeed, an early notebook entry offers that “art forms are more real (realer) than reality (Wirklichkeit),” and that the latter is an imitation of the former (KSA 7: 9 [133]).

All told, it seems that the tragic truth of becoming (T1) renders any thought formation groundless, and thus a (life-enhancing) “deception” in the light of that truth: “We have need of lies in order to conquer this reality, this ‘truth,’ that is, in order to live . . . . man must be a liar by nature, he must above all be an artist. And he is one: metaphysics, religion, morality, science––all of them only products of his will to art, to lie, to flight from ‘truth, to negation of ‘truth.’” (KSA 13: 11 [415]).[12] The critique of traditional thought systems amounts to this: they themselves are (artistic) creations with no ultimate foundation, yet they interpret themselves otherwise––they claim to be true and nothing like “art.” For Nietzsche, art has a special status because it does not pretend to be grounded in truth; art is thus more truthfully deceptive. An 1873 note among drafts for TL puts the point dramatically: “Art treats appearance (Schein) as appearance, therefore it does not want to deceive, it is true” (KSA 7: 29 [17]).[13] The deceptive character of art, therefore, is far from falsehood in the strict sense; it “accords” with tragic truth. Art is a lie in the familiar sense of a knowing falsehood, a deliberate departure from standard notions of truth. The tradition lies while thinking it is telling the truth, perhaps like pathological liars who come to believe their lies.[14]

Here is a summation thus far in terms of my three distinctions concerning truth. In the light of tragic truth (T1), all formations of thought are deceptive lies. When thought presumes to be a foundational construction of truth (T2), it can be called deceptive from a critical standpoint, as a “violation” of tragic truth. Art has no pretense of being foundational and so its mode of deception can have a positive sense (T3). Indeed, all formations of thought can have a positive meaning if taken in a more modest way as perspectival “creations” that are limited by tragic truth. T2 assumes truths that are incompatible with T1, and thus “false.” T3 does not and need not fit the perfect sense of what T2 assumes; yet as life-enhancing and workable within perspectival possibilities, T3 can be “true” in a limited manner, but at the same time “false” from the standpoint of its literal sense—so that, for instance, the notion of a discrete “thing” is not literally true (measured against T1), but it is functionally and pragmatically apt. T3 does not commit the error of metaphysical truth (T2). Borrowing from an artistic sense, T3 can be “fictional” compared to literal accuracy, but useful and disclosive in its own way.[15] Artistic fiction works in its own way too, but admits its fictional nature, thus being more “true” to T1. Art’s overt non-foundational posture gives it a distinctive position among cultural productions, and that is why Nietzsche uses the metaphor of art to characterize all forms of thought.

Falsehood in Greek Poetry

To round out this discussion, I offer some remarks about ancient Greek poetry that may help us better comprehend Nietzsche’s account of appearance and falsehood.[16] The Greeks were well aware from the earliest times that poetic performances depicted something different from “actual” events. Traveling bards would enthrall audiences with emotionally and musically charged tales about gods and heroes––culturally significant events embellished with heightened language for maximum effect. And such performances were a “pause” set aside from normal life pursuits. What interests us is that a word commonly used to denote this “difference” was pseudos, usually translated as “false.” Yet the context of this use and the cultural status of poetry would undermine the idea that pseudos here meant “falsehood” as the sheer opposite of truth.[17] Indeed, pseudos was a word with remarkable flexibility, the various senses of which could only be discerned in different contexts of use. Unlike our language, the Greeks used this same word to denote an “error” and a “lie,” that is, a mistaken statement and an intentional falsehood.

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