Nietzsche and Aesthetics: A Symposium

When:7 Dec 2015, 8:30am - 6pm
Venue:Robert Webster Building, Room 327, UNSW Kensington
Who:Centre for Modernism Studies in Australia

The long shadow cast by Nietzsche over the long twentieth century took peculiar forms in the work of innumerable artists, aesthetic theorists, writers and critics. Under the auspices of modernism and postmodernism, and the swarms of minor ‘isms’ they fostered, Nietzschean concepts (will, force, the Dionysian, eternal recurrence, etc.) returned again and again to salience in artistic practices and apologies, and particularly to the ways in which aesthetic specificity was thought in relation to social, political, and ethical norms. From Freud to Bataille, Adorno & Horkheimer, Deleuze, Derrida, de Man, Foucault, and Badiou, few thinkers have been more fundamental to the thinking of modern aesthetics than Nietzsche.

Nietzsche’s own discourse, meanwhile, is inseparable from the gripping aesthetic inquiry that is threaded through its course, and from the sheer literary quality of its unfurling. His developing moral and social philosophy is articulated through blazing figures of rhetoric, three-dimensional conceptual personae, stirring parables, and a dramaturgy of intellectual seduction unmatched since Plato; even as it is shadowed by the evolution of his own aesthetic theory. There is a distinctive pattern to that evolution, from romantic over-valuation, through ‘scientistic’ recantation and reaction, to a mature and relatively stable ‘aesthetics of morals’ or the cultivation of the self as a work of art. The shifting place of art and aesthetic speculation in relation to the rest of Nietzsche’s complex (anti-)philosophical efforts maps a distinctive sea change in his vexed relationships with science, epistemology, and ontology, ‘Artistic’ creation plays a central role in the ‘transvaluation of all values’ that lies at the heart of his entire project.

This symposium is dedicated to evaluating, here in the second decade of the twenty-first century, Nietzsche’s place in aesthetics, and the place of aesthetics in Nietzsche. We want to ask what Nietzsche’s thinking continues to make available to artistic work and its theoretical capture; and what in it is beyond recuperation. How have artists and writers approached the author of Zarathustra: as ally or enemy? How does Nietzsche’s project of ‘transvaluation’ promote or hinder the production of contemporary aesthetic values? What untapped sources in Nietzsche’s thought might offer points of orientation in the Anthropocene?

No registration necessary, free entry.

Keynote speaker

Daniel Conway


  • Nietzsche as writer
  • Philosophy, rhetoric, poetry
  • Pictures of thought
  • Aesthetics beyond good and evil
  • Wagner, for and against
  • Greece, Apollo, Dionysos
  • Tragedy, comedy, chaos
  • Drama and Performance
  • Genealogies of artistic value
  • Power, institutions, artworks
  • The proximity of prose to poetry in Nietzsche
  • Noble vs. herd values
  • Active and reactive forces
  • Language as encrustation of calcified symbols, and the problem of poetics
  • The aesthetics of selfhood, becoming a ‘poet of life’
  • Sexual politics and Nietzschean artistry
  • ‘Winning’ and ‘losing’ in the economy of artistic values

Download full program (PDF) [358 Kb]

View Past Events