Monash University

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Life and its transfiguration in Nietzsche's thought

posted on 2017-02-24, 00:25 authored by Cominos, Marina Olive
This thesis argues that Nietzsche’s thought takes two paths toward overcoming the nihilism of modern culture. It shows that affirmation is alternatively conceived as a revaluation of life and as a transfiguration of it, introducing an ambiguity at the heart of Nietzsche’s philosophy. Nietzsche’s aspiration to cultural regeneration prevents him from recognising the implications of affirmation as it is best conceived, as transfiguration, an aesthetic condition that cannot be imposed or designed in the service of human elevation. Nietzsche’s own revaluation, by which he accords positive value to life, culminates in the vitalistic ontology of will to power. Affirmation as revaluation rests on a notion of life as it is, reproducing the dichotomy of truth and illusion that Nietzsche identifies in nihilism. His project of cultural regeneration draws on the ontology of vitalism in the figure of the legislator who creates affirmative values reflecting the evaluative dynamic of life itself. Affirmation is here understood as the self-affirmation of will to power, in which life seeks to expand its dominion. But this aspect of Nietzsche’s thought enables an abhorrent politics of domination that objectifies human beings as it reshapes the forms of human life. Affirmation as transfiguration, on the other hand, emerges in the aesthetic sublime, furnishing an alternative conception of will to power, which augments existence in artistic form. Aesthetic rapture is for Nietzsche a state of joyous self-surpassing, in which the superfluity of fullness in existence is given symbolic form. Whereas vitalistic will to power constitutes existence as mastery, goal and calculation, aesthetic will to power opens upon self-dissolution, recollection and free bestowal. In the distinctively aesthetic mode of affirmation, existence is consecrated as it gains in meaning. Outcomes of cultural change are incidental to this form of affirmation, which eternalizes itself rather than seeking human transformation. In contrast to value-legislation, the philosopher-artist of the aesthetic sublime creates a new horizon of meaning for human life. Although Nietzsche makes the strongest self-transformative claims for aesthetic affirmation, his recourse to a vitalistic creation of values to secure cultural renewal distorts affirmation by joining it to an instrumentalist project of refashioning the human.


Principal supervisor

Paul Muldoon

Additional supervisor 1

Michael Janover

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre

School of Social Sciences (Monash Australia)


Doctor of Philosophy

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Faculty of Arts

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