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Thinking at a Threshold. Nietzsche and Benjamin on Experience and Art In Modernity

by Wachter, David

Abstract (Summary)
This thesis attempts to compare major thoughts by Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) and Walter Benjamin (1892-1940). Although seldom put in relation to each other, their theories on experience and art in modernity bear striking similarities. Beyond a mere study of how Nietzsche may have influenced Benjamin, this thesis seeks to show that both thinkers employ comparable styles and strategies of argumentation. This common approach consists in the juxtaposition of an organological discourse that views modernity as cultural decomposition with an aesthetic emphasis that reshapes the respective attitude towards modernity. By this movement of establishing and at the same time questioning a discourse on modernity, both Nietzsche and Benjamin situate their own thinking at a moment of transition, a threshold that lives from the continuous contact to opposed perspectives. A first part concentrates on Nietzsche's theory of decadence. It is shown that Nietzsche's borrowings from the 19th century physiological discourse provides him with a powerful tool to criticize decadence as corporeal decay and to suggest a remedy in the reestablishment of a "healthy organism". Yet this perspective is opposed by an aesthetic one in which the dissolution of the "whole" is seen as an emancipatory movement that renders the "nuance" available for art. By this surprising turn, Nietzsche situates decadence at the core of his own thinking. A second part focuses on Benjamin's views on art and experience in modernity. While his essay on Der Erzähler criticizes the modern dissolution of experience and narration, his famous Das Kunstwerk sees the becoming independent of parts as a form of emancipation from tradition's totalizing grip. In contrast to these seemingly irreconcilable views, Benjamin's work Über einige Motive bei Baudelaire takes the moment of tension seriously and establishes an aesthetic of the threshold: the French poet's value lies in his combination of both spleen and idéal , of separating forces and uniting tendencies. The present thesis thus shows that the location in between discourses is being developed into a threshold thinking that constitutes a common feature of both Nietzsche's and Benjamin's theories of modernity.
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Advisor:

School:University of Cincinnati

School Location:USA - Ohio

Source Type:Master's Thesis

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Date of Publication:01/01/2002

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