Keats and Nietzsche

Dissertation, New York University (2003)

Abstract
Keats and Nietzsche, an ethical study of John Keats using Friedrich Nietzsche as a critical reading lens, examines the poetry and letters of Keats, using Nietzsche's ideas on temporary fictions, self-overcoming, the value-positing eye, the Apollinian-Dionysian dialectic, the unhistorical state of being, ressentiment, pity, sublimation, the sublime, and the will to power. The opening chapter acknowledges three previous works that examine Keats through Nietzsche's dialectic in The Birth of Tragedy and charts the dissertation's chapters on perspectivism, suffering, aesthetics, and identity. ;The second chapter uses Keats's letters and Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil to challenge standard readings of Keats's theory of "negative capability" as empathy unburdened by moral interest. Addressing the deconstructivist use of Nietzsche's commentary on logocentrism and disagreeing with Paul de Man's use of Nietzsche to privilege allegory above symbol, I contend that Nietzsche's observations on facts, interpretations, and temporary fictions support Keats's value for the artist's provisional self. ;The third chapter, on the ethics of suffering without comfort of afterworlds or guilt of original sin, discusses several of Keats's shorter poems, along with Isabella, Endymion, Lamia, The Eve of St. Agnes, Sleep and Poetry, and the two Hyperions. I explain Nietzsche's critique of Schopenhauer's aesthetic and Christianity's religious solutions, using The Antichrist, A Genealogy of Morals, and The Gay Science. ;Chapter four uses Nietzsche's dialectic from The Birth of Tragedy, theory of sublimation, and definition of the sublime to examine, among others, Keats's "Ode on a Grecian Urn" and "Ode to a Nightingale." I argue against those who cite "Beauty is truth, truth beauty" as an axiom extolling art as ideal or who claim that Keats substitutes art for religion; rather, art in Keats is a vehicle for internalizing the value-positing eye. ;In the final chapter, on poetic identity, I turn to Nietzsche's Thus Spake Zarathustra and Ecce Homo to discuss the remainder of Keats's Great Odes and, again, The Fall of Hyperion: A Dream. Here, I bridge Keats's tragic vision and self-generating empowerment through Nietzsche's "will to power."
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