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This book is an attempt to return beauty to the center of philosophical discourse, where it resided until the rise of Modernism. Mr. Nehemas associates beauty with desire or, more properly, desirability. It is in this sense that beauty offers a "promise of happiness"--that is we could possess the object that we desire we might be happy.

He contrasts this ancient understanding of visual appeal with the Modernist notion--that Tom Wolfe has so memorably demolished--that beauty is something to be explained to the viewer rather than generated by his observation:
Often self-consciously difficult, the modernist arts shifted the burden on communication from the work of art to its audience. It was no longer the work that had to attract its audience and bring it around, but the audience itself that became responsible for taking the initiative and making an effort to understand it and establish its value--a value that, since the work was seldom immediately appealing, must for a certain length of time be taken for granted. Genuine value is not obvious pleasure: the obvious is common.
The advantages of such an asinine construction are as obvious as the beauty it denies:
(1) It relieves artists of the difficulty of actually creating beautiful works. Indeed, the crappier your effort the better because that will simply require the critics, patrons and audiences to work all the harder to unravel the unobvious value. Not for nothing did Joyce say, "The demand I make of my reader is that he should devote his whole life to reading my works." The fact that his works had no value became their chief selling point. It is the explanation that matters, not the art.

(2) It allowed artists to claim for themselves the same inscrutability that scientists had achieved as their theories became ever more complex. After all, where once a solitary figure like a Goethe could be said to know everything that could be known in his own time, in the modern age Richard Feynman (or whichever physicist) could say: "If you think you understand quantum mechanics, then you don’t understand quantum physics." Who would be a professor of the Humanities if every Tom, Dick and Mary can read a book or look at a painting and tell whether it is beautiful or not, when a few buildings away a Biology or Physics professor is conveying gnosticism?

(3) It's just good for sales. As Wolfe asks in Bauhaus: "O beautiful, for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain, has there ever been another place on earth where so many people of wealth and power have paid for and put up with so much architecture they detested as within they blessed borders today?" Get the folks who spend the money to suspend their own capacities for judgment about what is beautiful and soon they're buying urinals for millions. Sure, the public gets the jokes, but the emperors are pissing away their money on your new clothes.

Ironically, Wolfe makes the case in simpler prose than Mr. Nehemas, who dresses it up in more academically philosophical garb, but props for the effort.


Grade: (C)


See also:

Alexander Nehamas (2 books reviewed)
Alexander Nehamas Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: Alexander Nehamas
    -FACULTY PAGE: Alexander Nehamas (Princeton University)
    -ENTRY: Nehamas, Alexander 1946- (
    -MEMBER PAGE: Alexander Nehamas, Academy member (Academy of Athens)
    -ETEXT: Nietzsche: Life as Literature (PDF)
    -GOOGLE BOOK: Nietzsche: Life as Literature
    -BOOK PAGE: Nietzsche: Life as Literature by Alexander Nehamas (Harvard University Press)
    -LECTURE: "Because it was he, because it was I": Friendship and Its Place in Life (Alexander Nehamas, 2008, University of Edinburgh, Gifford Lectures)
    -VIDEO LECTURE: Provost's Lecture Series: Metaphors in Our Lives: "I Love You for Yourself" (Alexander Nehamas, April 20, 2018, Stony Brook University)
    -ESSAY: Nietzsche and “Hitler” (Alexander Nehamas, Southern Journal of Philosophy)
    -ESSAY: Plato’s Pop Culture Problem, and Ours (ALEXANDER NEHAMAS, 8/29/10, NY Times)
    -ESSAY: The Peacock Problem: What does evolution say about why we make art? (Alexander Nehamas, March 01, 2009, American Scholar)
    -ESSAY: Nietzsche, modernity, aestheticism (Alexander Nehamas, Nietzsche as philosopher, Cambridge University Press)
    -ESSAY: The Genealogy of Genealogy: Interpretation in Nietzsche’s Second: Untimely Meditation and in The Genealogy of Morals (Alexander Nehamas, On Literary Theory and Philosophy)
    -LETTER TO THE EDITOR: No Sage (Alexander Nehamas, reply by J.M. Cameron, FEBRUARY 19, 1981, NY Review of Books)
    -ESSAY: The Postulated Author: Critical Monism as a Regulative Ideal (Alexander Nehamas, Critical Inquiry)
    -ESSAY: Nietzsche, intention, action (Alexander Nehamas, 26 January 2018, European Journal of Philosophy)
    -ESSAY: Did Nietzsche hold a “Falsification Thesis”? (Alexander Nehamas, Winter 2015, Philosophical Inquiry)
    -REVIEW: of Pippin, Robert B., Nietzsche, Psychology, and First Philosophy (Alexander Nehamas, Common Knowledge)
    -REVIEW: of Iris: A Memoir of Iris Murdoch by John Bayley (Alexander Nehamas, London Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of Dinner with Persephone by Patricia Storace (Alexander Nehamas, London Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of The Closing of the American Mind: How higher education has failed democracy and impoverished the souls of today’s students by Allan Bloom. (Alexander Nehamas, London Review of Books)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: Not Rocket Science (Alexander Nehamas, 22 June 2000, London Review of Books)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: Untheory (Alexander Nehamas, 22 May 1986, London Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of Family Papers: A Sephardic Journey Through the Twentieth Century by Sarah Abrevaya Stein (Alexander Nehamas, Jewish Review of Books)
    -ESSAY: Episteme and Logos in Plato's Later Thought (Alexander Nehamas, Society for Ancient Greek Philosophy)
    -ESSAY: What an Author Is (Alexander Nehamas, November 1986, The Journal of Philosophy)
    -REVIEW: of Regarding the Pain of Others by Susan Sontag (Alexander Nehamas, American Prospect)
    -ESSAY: The Two Faces of Friendship (Alexander Nehamas, May 2, 2016 , Medium)
    -PODCAST: Alexander Nehamas explores the value of friendship (Nigel Warburton, Philosophy Bites)
    -PODCAST: Alexander Nehamas extended interview (Philosophy Talk)
    -PODCAST: Alexander Nehamas the Golden Age of Television (Philosophy Talk)
    -INTERVIEW: How We Might Repeat the Unrepeatable: Talking to Alexander Nehamas (Andy Fitch, 08/03/2018, LA Review of Books)
    -INTERVIEW: What I think: Alexander Nehamas (Jamie Saxon, Dec. 7, 2015, Princeton University)
Nietzsche was thought to have a very bad life because he was completely ignored, he was very sick most of his life, he had continuous migraines, he never found a woman he could marry, he was in love with a woman but she wasn’t interested in him, he had very few friends and had not very much money. So people say, his work is great but his life is terrible. We define the life as everything but the work — and I think that’s a really terrible mistake. But if you include in the life writing all these magnificent books and having all those incredible ideas, is that a bad life? I think that in a way is what happiness may be. Feeling “that’s me” in your work, I think that’s one of the greatest feelings you can have — ever.

    -INTERVIEW: Alexander Nehamas (David Carrier, Fall 1998, Bomb)
    -INTERVIEW: Alexander Nehamas On Emotions (Off Center, Vol 3, No 3, May 15, 2017)
    -INTERVIEW: Why Friendship Is Like Art: A new philosophy of a complicated relationship (JULIE BECK, MAY 4, 2016, The Atlantic)
    -VIDEO LECTURE: President's Lecture Series 2009-10 (Alexander Nehamas, May 7, 2010, University of Montana)
    -INTERVIEW: Care of the self: An Interview with Alexander Nehamas (Vladislav Suvak)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW: Why We Need To Build Strong Friendships (Joy Cardin Show, 8/18/16, Wisconsin Public Radio)
    -INTERVIEW: Q&A with Alexander Nehamas (Book Q&As with Deborah Kalb, May 3, 2016)
    -ESSAY: Self and Style: Life as Literature Revisited (Christopher Janaway,?The Journal of Nietzsche Studies)
    -ESSAY: Self-Interpreting Selves: Comments on Alexander Nehamas's Nietzsche: Life as Literature (Robert Pippin,?The Journal of Nietzsche Studies)
    -ESSAY: Nietzsche and Aestheticism (Brian Leiter, 1992, Chicago Unbound) -INTERVIEW: What Thomas Kuhn Really Thought about Scientific "Truth" (John Horgan, May 23, 2012, Scientific American)
    -ESSAY: Philosophy as Self-Fashioning: Alexander Nehamas's Art of Living (R. Lanier Anderson, Joshua Landy, Diacritics)
-ARCHIVES: Alexander Nehamas (London Review of Books)
    -ARCHIVES: Alexander Nehamas (You Tube)
    -ARCHIVES: Alexander Nehamas (Academia)
    -REVIEW: of Nietzsche: Life as Literature by Alexander Nehamas (Tom Edward Heeney, Philosophy & Rhetoric)
    -REVIEW: of Nietzsche: Life as Literature (Karsten Harries, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Nietzsche: Life as Literature (Kathleen Marie Higgins, Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism)
    -REVIEW: of Nietzsche: Life as Literature (Peter Fenves, Philosophy & Literature)
    -REVIEW: of Nietzsche: Life as Literature (David Hoy, London Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of Nietzsche: Life as Literature (Philip Williams, Journal of Religion)
    -REVIEW: of Nietzsche: Life as Literature (Daniel Breazeale, Journal of the History of Philosophy)
    -REVIEW: of Nietzsche: Life as Literature (David Godden, Kinesis)
    -REVIEW: of Nietzsche: Life as Literature (Phillip Williams, Journal of Religion)
    -REVIEW: of Only a Promise of Happiness: The Place of Beauty in a World of Art by Alexander Nehamas (GIDEON LEWIS-KRAUS, NY Sun)
    -REVIEW: of Only a Promise of Happiness (Martin Donougho, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews)
    -REVIEW: of Only a Promise of Happiness (JILL MARSDEN, Nietzsche Circle)
    -REVIEW: of Only a Promise of Happiness (Carolyn Korsmeyer, The British Journal of Aesthetics)
    -REVIEW: of Only a Promise of Happiness (Christopher Benfey, Slate)
    -REVIEW: of Writings from the Early Notebooks by Friedrich Nietzsche, Raymond Geuss and Alexander Nehamas (eds.), Ladislaus Löb (tr.) (Rolf-Peter Horstmann, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews)
    -REVIEW: of On Friendship by Alexander Nehamas,/a> (Neera K. Badhwar, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews)
-REVIEW: of The Art of Living by Alexander Nehamas (Richard Bernstein, Bryn Mawr Review of Comparative Literature)
    -REVIEW: of The Art of Living (James Hans, Philosophy Today)
    -REVIEW: of The Art of Living (Phil Archive)
    -WIKIPEDIA: Friedrich Nietzsche
    -WIKIPEDIA: Philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche
    -ENTRY: Friedrich Nietzsche (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
    -ENTRY: Perspectivism (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
    -ENTRY: Lecture 27: The Revolt Against the Western Intellectual Tradition: Friedrich Nietzsche and the Birth of Modernism (The History Guide)
    -ESSAY: Nietzsche's Rereading of Plato (Catherine Zuckert, Political Theory)
    -ESSAY: Philosophizing against Philosophy: Nietzsche’s provocation of the philosophical tradition (Volker Gerhardt, Journal of Nietsche Studies)
    -DOCTORAL DISSERTATION: Nietzsche as Critic and Captive of Enlightenment Doctoral Dissertation (Lewis Call, 1995, University of California, Irvine)
    -ESSAY: The legacy of Friedrich Nietzsche: On the world Nietzsche predicted and precipitated. (Roger Kimball, september 1991, New Criterion)
    -ESSAY: Truth as Value: Nietzsche’s Escape from Nihilism (Gerry Stahl, Massachusetts Institute of Technology)
    -ESSAY: Nietzsche’s Moral Immoralism (Gregory Kimbrell, Chrestomathy)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: Nietzsche vs. Nietzsche (James Joll, FEBRUARY 11, 1993 , NY Review of Books)
    -ESSAY: Nietzsche’s Immoralism (Philippa Foot, JUNE 13, 1991, NY Review of Books)
    -ESSAY: Nietzsche's Eternal Return (Alex Ross, The New Yorker)
-INTERVIEW: A Good Life: Friendship Ar t and Truth (Interview Coordinator: Despina Vertzagia, Interviewers: Triseugene Georgakopoulou, Jenny Pavlidou, Katerina Plevridi, Fotis Stamos, 2017, Conatus)
    -ESSAY: PLATO’S POP CULTURE PROBLEM, AND OURS (Alexander Nehamas, Winter 2010-11, NCAC Newsletter)
    -ESSAY: Plato and the Mass Media (Alexander Nehamas, Plato on Art and Beauty)
    -REVIEW: of I Am Dynamite!: A Life of Nietzsche by Sue Prideaux (Henrik Bering, New Criterion)

Book-related and General Links:

    -ESSAY: The Attack on Beauty (Marilyn Simon, 12/05/20, Quillette)
    -ESSAY: Who Decides the Mysterious Standard of Beauty? (Yardenne Greenspan, 1/04/21, Ploughshares)
    -ESSAY: How the Brain Responds to Beauty: Scientists search for the neural basis of an enigmatic experience (Jason Castro, February 2, 2021, Scientific American)
    -LETTERS: What is Art? and/or What is Beauty? (Philosophy Now, december 2021)