My current research project reevaluates Nietzsche’s theory of life affirmation from a feminist perspective. In Nietzsche studies, ‘life affirmation’ is shorthand for overcoming the problem of nihilism. My project engages the work of Hedwig Dohm, an underappreciated feminist interpreter of Nietzsche who lived and wrote in Germany in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. I am currently part of the Extending New Narratives Works-in-Progress Seminar, where I will be presenting my work on Hedwig Dohm. This seminar provides early career researchers the opportunity to present their work to leading scholars in the field, with the aim of producing a publication. The goal is to encourage more scholars to take up figures who have been marginalized by the philosophical cannon.
“The Wisdom of Silenus: Suffering in The Birth of Tragedy” (Journal of Nietzsche Studies, 2018)
Abstract: This article discusses Nietzsche’s response in The Birth of Tragedy (BT) to what he calls the wisdom of Silenus, that “the very best thing is utterly beyond your reach: not to have been born, not to be, to be nothing. However, the second best thing for you is to die soon.” I begin by analyzing the view that Silenus expresses a proto-Schopenhauerian truth about the world as “will.” I then review Bernard Reginster’s interpretation of the wisdom of Silenus as an early form of Nietzschean nihilism. As an alternative to these readings, I argue that, for Nietzsche, Silenus’s wisdom addresses a crucial, existential dimension of ancient Greek tragic culture. I conclude by pointing out that, in BT, Nietzsche locates nihilism not in the wisdom of Silenus, but in the advent of Socratism.
“Nietzsche’s Hamlet Puzzle: Life Affirmation in The Birth of Tragedy” (The Routledge Companion to Shakespeare and Philosophy, ed. Craig Bourne and Emily Caddick Bourne, Routledge, 2019)
Abstract: This essay examines a passage from The Birth of Tragedy in which Nietzsche briefly touches on Hamlet. This passage is interesting because of its apparent lack of fit within its context. Hamlet, an Elizabethan, English play, without a chorus appears during Nietzsche’s discussion of ancient Greek tragedy, its chorus, and its effect on its audience. I explore the puzzling nature of this passage, review a popular misreading, and suggest a new approach that illustrates how this Hamlet passage can illuminate Nietzsche’s notion of life affirmation in The Birth of Tragedy. I conclude by providing a Nietzschean reading of Hamlet, which demonstrates the reverberations between Nietzsche’s philosophy and Shakespeare’s tragedy. I argue that Hamlet is a dramatization of Nietzsche’s concept of life affirmation: it is only as an artist, and not as the actor in his own failed attempt to set things right, that Hamlet finally acts.
“Nietzsche on Suffering, Affirmation, and Modern Tragedy”
Committee: Kristin Gjesdal (Chair), Susan Feagin, Lara Ostaric, Paul Kottman, Andrew Huddleston
Abstract: As an artform, tragedy is deeply perplexing. On the one hand, it depicts events that are painful, depressing, and difficult to watch. On the other hand, it is a genre that has been continually replicated, revered, and enjoyed throughout history. I examine Nietzsche’s response to this problem. Nietzsche, I argue, develops a clear response to the paradox of tragedy: Tragedy is valuable because, even though (or precisely because) it is painful to watch, it allows us to affirm life. Interestingly, Nietzsche’s discussion of tragedy is filled with numerous mentions of Shakespeare. I argue that Nietzsche’s comments on Shakespeare emphasize the historically sensitive nature of Nietzsche’s theory of life affirmation. While Nietzsche might seem to be delivering a universal, trans-historical account of life affirmation, his comments on Shakespeare make it clear that life affirmation functions differently in different times and cultures.