In his Nietzsche lectures, Heidegger states that there is a concealed discordance between beauty, semblance, and truth in Platonism. This paper explores this claim in detail to show how such a discordance haunts not only Platonism, but the beginnings and ends of Western philosophy. This commences with Plato’s claim that beauty’s radiance is both the reminder of the non-sensible εἴδη and a semblance belonging to the sensible world. This discordance is not overcome in the ensuing Western tradition, however, but made more dreadful. This is because in Nietzsche’s anti-platonic retrieval of sensible beauty over non-sensible truth, the platonic reminder of the εἴδη is transformed into the dangerous production of new forms of power. In both cases, however, Heidegger proposes that this metaphysical thinking of Being-as-form conceals the early Greek insight that beauty’s tragic radiance lets Being appear as both truth and semblance.
It is a strange thing to say that beginnings are terrible. Stranger still to say that this is bound up with the beautiful. We hear in certain mythological beginnings, for example, that the world’s most beautiful woman was born from Zeus’s divine rape of Nemesis. The offspring of this illicit act was Helen, whose nimbus-like radiance attracts the greatest passion and calamity with equal indifference, who loved by all loves none back, whose radiant being cannot be distinguished from phantomlike semblance.2
On the one hand, the terror of Helen’s beauty follows here from the uncanny ambivalence surrounding it. For example, we hear that she both seduces Paris and is seduced by him, loves Menelaus and hates him, dwells in Sparta and is hidden in Egypt. She is a ghost, a phantom that threatens to undermine the truth, propriety, and being of the men and women chasing her. On the other hand, this terror concerns the violent will to possession that her beauty engenders in those who encounter it. Thus we learn that her mother’s rape is redoubled in her own rape by Theseus, while her abduction by Paris leads to the annihilation of so many others at Troy. In this way, one might say that the terror of Helen’s beauty concerns the tragic interplay of appearing (Erscheinen) and seeming (Anschein) in the early Greek world, and the inevitable violation that follows it.3
If, however, these insights concern the beautiful within mythological beginnings, Heidegger’s invocation of Rilke’s “beginning of the terrible” in the Nietzsche lectures invites us to simultaneously think about the question with regard to philosophical beginnings. For in these lectures Heidegger suggests that, in a certain sense, philosophy begins with Plato’s attempt to determine the indeterminable relationship between beauty and semblance within the framework of the εἴδη. In tracing the development of this determination forward to Nietzsche, however, Heidegger contends that this violence turns into something still more dreadful (entsetzen). Specifically, in failing to think the essential discordance (Zwiespalt) between beauty, semblance, and Being figured in Helen above, Heidegger suggests that Nietzsche’s reversal of Platonism positions beauty within the volatile dynamics of will to power anticipating technicity today.
These are provocative claims. If, however, there is a tragic wisdom in thinking about these appearances and semblances of beauty, we might ask more carefully just how philosophy can be understood as a kind of violation of the beautiful. Pursuing this question here, I want to begin by closely examining Heidegger’s claim in the Nietzsche lectures that there is a discordance between beauty, semblance, and true Being that Platonism cannot face. I will then turn to his reading of Nietzsche’s attempt to reverse this Platonic determination in the dynamics of will to power. Highlighting the subjection of the beautiful at both the beginning and end of philosophy to the production of form (εἲδος), I shall conclude by showing how Heidegger retrieves a pre-philosophical thinking of the beautiful in the early Greeks.
2 Plato: Felicitous Discordance
In the first volume of the Nietzsche Lectures: The Will to Power as Art, Heidegger suggests that Plato’s thinking of the beautiful serves as the answer to a question about Nietzsche’s thinking of will to power. This is because in associating the will to power with the beautiful creation of the artist, Nietzsche self-consciously situates his thinking over against the history of Western philosophy that has, since Plato, privileged supersensuous truth over sensuous beauty. For this reason, Heidegger states that in order to understand how Nietzsche’s thinking serves as the reversal of the history of Platonism, one must first explicate the nature of beauty in Plato.
For Plato, however, “everything is gathered into the guiding question of philosophy—the question as to what beings are” (
It is this fundamental aporia of the χωρισµός in Plato—the split between true Being and sensuous appearance—that explains why “most people find knowledge of Being quite laborious, and consequently […] the view upon Being, remains ἀτελής to them […]” (
This need is met, however, by the beautiful. Heidegger cites Phaedrus 250d: “to beauty alone has the role been allotted (i.e. in the essential order of Being’s illumination) to be the most radiant, but also the most enchanting” (
But the Phaedrus is a dialogue on many subjects, subjects that are not treated separately, subjects that stand in essential relation with one another (
In a key footnote to his English translation of the Nietzsche lectures here, David Krell highlights Heidegger’s careful engagement with this erotically doubled language. He notes, in particular, that while the Greek says ἐκφανέστατον καὶ ἐρασµιώτατον, the German says “das Berückend-Entrückende.” Here the root rücken suggests a change of place, while the prefixes be- and ent- are meant to emphasize the dynamic, transitive movements of this radiance that looks first towards the appearance and then away onto true Being. These movements are not gradual or linear but are characterized by their “sudden quality,” emphasizing the ecstatic and vertiginous effect beauty has in bringing about a change of perception (Nietzsche i, 196fn). Beauty captures and then transports. Beauty enraptures and then liberates. In drawing these two, antonymous German terms together to describe this dynamism, Krell concludes that Heidegger is, in effect, echoing the fundamental discordance in Platonic beauty.4
But now Heidegger asks, “what does discordance mean” (
[I]n that very medium where they belong together, they must diverge for man, they must separate from one another. For the openedness of Being, truth, can only be nonsensuous illumination, since for Plato Being is nonsensuous. Because Being opens itself only to the view upon Being, and because the latter must always be snatched from oblivion of Being, and because for that reason it needs the most direct radiance of fleeting appearances, the opening up of Being must occur at that site where, estimated in terms of truth, the µὴ ὄν (εἴδωλον), i.e., non being, occurs. But that is the site of beauty.
Heidegger contends, then, that the very same doubling that allows beauty to testify to true Being from within the sensuous world of mere appearance is also what distances beauty from it. That is, even as Being needs beauty as the means of its disclosure in the sensible world, beauty’s participation in “that site where, estimated in terms of truth, the µὴ ὄν (εἴδωλον), i.e., non being, occurs,” prevents it from being identical with true Being. This theoretical aporia finds an interesting illustration in the Phaedrus in Socrates’s account of the lover. For the lover is described here as one who is mesmerized by the beauty of his young beloved, yet unable to remember from where this power originates, abandons his family and πόλις to chase the beloved in the most disgraceful ways (251d–252b). In the religious language of the µῦθος, Socrates suggests that, blind to the face of the true god, the lover worships the idol of the beloved instead (251a–b).
The example of the lover helps express the concrete danger of beauty’s theoretical semblance here. For it is just because beauty makes its reminder of true Being in the sensuous context of a particular—i.e. the beautiful beloved—that beauty also misleads the lover into mistaking the sensuous being for the supersensuous Being that scintillates through it. More precisely, because beauty erotically and enthrallingly illuminates the particular figure through which it shines, the lover is prone to mistake the reminder for the truth. In this way, however, one finds an interesting rewriting of the claim cited above that δόξα is defined by its dullness. Indeed, one might say that it is just because one’s limited view onto Being is illuminated by the enchanting radiance of the beautiful that the human’s enthrallment in semblance is so powerful.
As Heidegger notes, however, none of this troubles Plato. This is because the philosophical objective of Platonism lies neither with the lover of beauty nor with the δόξα of ordinary experience, but with the wisdom of the philosopher. As the Phaedrus proceeds to show, the philosopher is the one who not only experiences the beautiful but in dialectically reflecting on the nature of this experience and its problems: “his memory is carried back to the real nature of Beauty […] on the sacred pedestal next to Self-control” (254b). Elsewhere, however, in his 1932 Phaedrus course, Heidegger points out that the second half of the dialogue demonstrates that rhetoric becomes τέχνη through the ἔντεχνον of beautiful speech (καλῶς λέγειν), speech that speaks from reflection on the nature of the soul and the εἴδη.5 Here the τρόπος of rhetoric aligns with the τρόπος of τέχνη as: ψῦχαγωγία διὰ λόγων, a turning of the soul towards the εἴδη (
If this semblance of the beautiful does not trouble Plato, however, it troubles Heidegger. For after noting that this relationship is a felicitous one for Plato, he observes that, “viewed more discerningly, a discordance in the strict (streng) sense lies here as well. But it belongs to the essence of Platonism that it efface that discordance by positing Being in such a way that it can do so without the effacement becoming visible as such” (
Heidegger does not answer these questions in his reading of Plato here. Instead, he observes that in the history of philosophy this discordance is carried forward by Nietzsche and reversed (
3 Nietzsche: Dreadful Discordance
If Plato stands at the beginning of metaphysics, Heidegger tells us that Nietzsche stands at its end. Everything that passes in between can be defined as “the history of Platonism” (
Amidst these twists and turns, however, Nietzsche does not do away with beauty, semblance, or true Being but resituates them within the new logic of will to power. Whereas truth held the privileged position in Plato, beauty occupies the primary place in Nietzsche. Heidegger explains that this follows from the rapturous (Rausch) nature of the will to power. As the fundamentally creative drive for Nietzsche, the will has its essence in the ecstatic attunement that draws one out beyond oneself in the act of continual self-overcoming. As Heidegger observes, however, rapture responds fundamentally to the beautiful. This is because “the beautiful is what determines us, our behavior and our capability, to the extent that we are claimed supremely in our essence, which is to say, to the extent that we ascend beyond ourselves” (
It is striking to find here that Nietzschean beauty, like Platonic beauty, is responsible for the ecstatic experience of transport (entrückende) that brings Dasein into its fundamental relation with Being. Indeed, in this sense beauty still retains the character of the ἐκφανέστατον καὶ ἐρασµιώτατον. It is perhaps more striking, however, to find that Nietzschean beauty also retains the Platonic relationship with the production of the εἶδος. For as Heidegger explains in the section “Rapture as Form-engendering Force:”
The artist—out of whom, back to whom and within whom Nietzsche always casts his glance […] has his fundamental character in this: he “ascribes to no thing a value unless it knows how to become form” (
wm, 817). […] [F]orm, forma, corresponds to the Greek µορφή. It is the enclosing limit and boundary, what brings and stations a being into that which it is, so that it stands in itself: its configuration [Aussehen]. ga6.1:118–119/118
Of course, for Nietzsche this encounter with the εἶδος no longer concerns the view onto supersensuous Being, but rather the subject’s confrontation with its own representational ability to provide the look(s) of the εἴδη. In this self-confrontation with the deeper “truth” of the production of form, Nietzsche proposes to have successfully revalued truth itself. Indeed as Heidegger is careful to point out, Nietzsche does not simply discard truth, but reorients it as the way that a given “perspective petrifies and is taken to be the sole definitive appearance, to the disregard of the perspectives that crowd round in turn” (
What then does Nietzsche tell us about the discordance between beauty, semblance, and true Being, and why does Heidegger now call this discordance dreadful? The answer begins with Nietzsche’s claim that Plato’s illicit privileging of true Being over the semblance of beauty has grounded the history of nihilism as a history of stilted values. Indeed insofar as the essence of Being lies in becoming for Nietzsche, truth is a degradation of the will to the production of form underlying metaphysics. By making the semblance of beauty first philosophy then, Nietzsche proposes to subvert the stable assurance of the true world, and draw the abyssal and abysmal character of the production of values into the open. In this move, beauty no longer serves true Being but stands over against it in a raging (erregender) discordance; no longer felicitous, but dreadful.
One will note, however, that entsetzen not only means dread here, but horror or displacement. In another sense then, one might say that in Nietzsche, Platonic beauty also achieves the horror of its own dreadful displacement. On the one hand, this is because as far as Nietzsche goes, Heidegger argues that he does not go far enough. Led by the guiding question of beings (Seiende), but not the grounding question of the unconcealment (ἀλήθεια) of Being (Sein), Nietzsche fails to inquire into what remains concealed in the essence of this discordance (
On the other hand, by bringing this beautiful production of form to the fore of his thinking, and by making it an imperative within the rapturous dynamics of will to power, this discordance also becomes more dangerous in Nietzsche. Heidegger helps highlight this danger through a comparison of Nietzsche’s and Kant’s aesthetics. This originates with a clarification that for Nietzsche, like Kant, the rapture of beauty is not merely taking an interest in something or a reflection of self-desire. Rather, as Kant argues, in the beautiful “we must release what encounters us as such to its way to be; we must allow and grant it what belongs to it and what it brings to us” (
It turns out then that while Nietzsche promises to liberate the realm of appearances from its Platonic determination via a rethinking of the discordant relations between beauty, semblance, and true Being, his failure to think this discordance more originally results in a dangerous sublimation of the metaphysics of the production of form, a finding that leads Heidegger elsewhere to conclude that “beauty even now remains the basic determination” of technicity today.8 If Nietzsche ultimately fails to uncover what is effaced in the Platonic discordance of these relations, however, then where is one left to look? In the section, “Six Basic Developments in the History of Aesthetics,” Heidegger offers up another possibility. He reminds us that Plato’s thinking not only shapes the philosophical tradition that comes after it, but constitutes an important transformation of the tradition that comes before it, a transformation in which another thinking “comes to an end,” the thinking of the early Greeks (
4 Early Greeks: Supreme Discordance
Alongside the Nietzsche lectures, in the contemporaneous Introduction to Metaphysics, Heidegger declares that the conceptual oppositions that Plato invokes to delimit Being—concepts like becoming, seeming, and thinking—can only be appealed to because Being is first thought as the shining of appearing (das scheinende Erscheinen).9 Appearing, however, is known more simply by the early Greeks as beauty. Thus Heidegger states, “ὄν and καλόν (‘in Being’ and ‘beautiful’) say the same thing here (coming to presence is pure shining)” (
For the early Greeks, the relation between Being and appearing is self-evident because they take their view from φύσις, the self-showing emerging abiding sway of that which is not created by mortals. This view is achieved, however, via the gathering of λόγος, which, unlike in the subsequent philosophical division between Being and Thinking, speaks from the essential unity of φύσις. Thus, Heidegger cites Heraclitus’s Fragment 2 that in listening to the λόγος one listens to “the togetherness” of beings that show themselves in φύσις (
That which contends is gathering gatheredness, λόγος. The Being of all beings is what is most shining [das Scheinendste]—that is, what is most beautiful [Schönste], what is most constant in itself. What the Greeks meant by “beauty” is discipline [Bändigung]. The gathering together of the highest contending is πόλεµος, struggle in the sense of the confrontation, the setting-apart-from-each-other [Aus-einander-setzung] […].
Here one learns that simple things are also difficult. For as Heraclitus explains, what is unified in the radiance of appearing involves a primordial confrontation (πόλεµος). In this encounter, gathering takes places simultaneously as a bringing-together and a setting-apart in which opposites can first be drawn into relation with one another. However, not just any gathering-separating achieves this effect. It is only through the “discipline” (Bändigung) and “harmony” (ἁρµονία) of the beautiful that the “enjoinment” (Fügung) of the form of appearance is made possible (
For the early Greeks, however, thinking is not yet separated from singing. Thus, if Heraclitus speaks from the vantage of the thinking-poet here, Heidegger observes that it is also necessary to listen to the poet-thinker. In particular, he draws our attention to the first choral ode from Sophocles’s Antigone where the daring of human Dasein is sung as the δεινότατον, the most wondrous, uncanny, and violent of all beings. Here, in the singing of how Dasein’s standing-out to φύσις “holds sway and lets it enter an openness,” the ode essentially sings of τέχνη in the originally broad sense of how the human being gets a foothold in the world (
Significantly, Heidegger observes that the Greek does not say “un-beings” here, but “un-beauty.” Of course, this is possible because beauty and Being mean the same thing: appearing. So too then do their opposites. In his analysis of these lines in the Ister lectures, however, Heidegger observes that this overlap must not be interpreted to mean that there is no shining or appearing where there is no being. Rather, µὴ ὄν means non-beings, those beings that are not in truth but are also not altogether nothing, a distinction emphasized by the special negation, µὴ. Whereas the Greek negation οὐκ means what is not, µὴ refers to something that is, but which shows itself as it is not, a semblance or false appearance.13 Accordingly, Heidegger contends τὸ µὴ καλόν names the essential ability of non-beings to entangle Dasein in that which is without substance, not the opposite of beauty, but the tragic aspect of beauty that helps explain the fundamental risk of Dasein’s wondrous manifestation of the world (
It turns out then that the same power that helps overcome the δόξα of the πολλοί in the disciplined gathering of appearance also entangles Dasein in the seeming of Being. It is here that Heidegger locates what has been effaced in the discordance between these relations in Platonism. For in Heraclitus and Sophocles, Being, appearing, seeming, truth, and beauty are neither separated as mere opposites nor lumped together like some confused amalgam, but “precisely by being apart” the discordance of these relations “enter into the supreme way of belonging together” (
As the armies clashed on the bloody beaches amidst the evening smell of burning cattle fat, and the salt hung sweet on the hot dry air, as Achilles chased Hector madly around the city walls, the oracles and old men must have wondered where Helen really was? Of course, Homer tells us that she remained inside the Trojan walls. But Euripides imagines that only her εἴδωλον was at Troy while she was hidden far away in Egypt, the spell of violence that drives great things inviolable at a distance.14 And yet, as we know, this inviolable distance has also already been trespassed a thousand times before, in Zeus’s rape of Nemesis, in Theseus’s rape of Helen, in Helen’s determination by a thousand thinkers and artists.
In the preceding, however, we confront how this trespass of the beautiful takes place at the beginning of metaphysics. This is found in the way that the supreme belonging together of beauty, semblance, and truth is concealed by Plato in the determining substitution of φύσις with the εἶδος. For whereas φύσις allows the beauty of beings to unconceal themselves in the semblance of their aspect, in Plato the εἶδος inaugurates the pre-determined look given to the kind of looking (ἰδεῖν) that looks. In this way, the essential objective for the history of philosophy becomes the beautiful production (τέχνη) of this determinable look. By re-interpreting the task of philosophy as the beautiful production of the εἴδη, however, Platonism sends the dreadful today.
And yet, following these threads, one will also note that this violation grows out of the tragic nature of the beautiful itself. For if the tragic quality of beauty cited in the early Greeks above concerns just its tendency to obscure the dynamic in-appearance of appearing (ἀλήθεια) via its power to enthrall Dasein in specific appearances, then Plato’s hypostatization of the εἴδη over against mere appearing might be described as the philosophical succumbing to this tragic tendency of the beautiful. In this way then, we can say that philosophy is not simply the violation of the beautiful, but the beautiful is the determination of philosophy.15
Quoted in Martin Heidegger, Nietzsche: Der Wille zur Macht als Kunst (
See, for example, Roberto Calasso, The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony (New York: Random House Vintage, 1994).
I think here of Charles Scott’s wonderful essay, “Helen, Truth, and the Wisdom of Nemesis” in Living with Indifference (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2007), 11–21.
In his recent examination of the development of Heidegger’s rhetoric, David Krell suggests that Heidegger’s reading of Platonic beauty here, like ecstatic temporality in Being and Time, represents a “constructive” treatment of the phenomenon of ecstasy distinguishable from the derangement, alienation, and abandonment of his later thinking (59–60). As he puts it, “beauty’s sweeping us off to raptures of radiance and Eros does not seem anything like the deranging [Verrückung] of human beings to the outermost point of their complacency” (60). If however, as the present paper suggests, Heidegger’s reading of Platonic beauty is the origin of a certain violation of beauty leading to technicity, then we might ask if one can really separate these moments in Heidegger’s thinking and rhetoric? (David Farrell Krell, Ecstasy, Catastrophe: Heidegger from Being and Time to the Black Notebooks [Albany,
Martin Heidegger, Seminare: Platon—Aristotles—Augustinus (
On the subject of beauty and rapture (Rausch) in Heidegger’s reading of Nietzsche, see Nikola Mirković, “Schönheit, Rausch, und Schein” in Heideggers Ursprung des Kunstwerkes: Einkooperativer Kommentar, David Espinet and Tobias Keiling, eds. (Frankfurt am Main: Vittorio Klostermann, 2011), 200–209.
Heidegger’s reading of Kant here is intriguing. In this letting-be of appearing and the free object, Kant’s thinking of the beautiful comes very close to Heidegger’s own thinking of Gelassenheit. However, Heidegger concludes elsewhere in the lectures that Kant’s thinking remains trapped in the limits of the “modern subject” (
Martin Heidegger, Besinnung (
Martin Heidegger, Einführung in die Metaphysik (
Martin Heidegger, “Wie Wenn am Feiertag…” in Erläuterungen zu Hölderlins Dichtung (
Martin Heidegger, Hölderlins Hymne “Der Ister” (
The reference here is to Euripides’s Helen. However, Herodotus and Stesichorus make the same claim in the Histories and the Palinode to Helen.
Elsewhere in the Nietzsche lectures, Heidegger points to another way of thinking all of this. He states that by following the artist but not the work of art that helps create the artist, Nietzsche fails to grasp the essence of creation that can only be glimpsed by departing from the origin of the artwork itself (