When Nietzsche, in his ‘An Attempt at Self-Criticism’ (‘Versuch einer Selbstkritik’) from 1886, asks for an ‘artiste’s metaphysics’ (Artistenmetaphysik), he does so, first of all, not to suggest an artistic ground to all metaphysics, but – read in combination with the search for an ‘exceptional type of artist’ (Ausnahme-Art von Künstlern) – to advocate the need for a radical artistic position able to appropriate all possible concepts, including those of philosophy, without exception. That this move may also return ‘a philosophy’ is secondary; it is more relevant that it is an artist’s philosophy.
According to Helmut Heit, ‘also biographically, […] a principle problematisation of science was possible for Nietzsche only through a detour via art’ (Heit 2011: 10, our translation; dass eine grundlegende Problematisierung der Wissenschaft Nietzsche selbst nur durch den Umweg über die Kunst mö̧glich war.). This suggests that it is not so much a question of art versus science (which has to be understood according to the more general German term, Wissenschaft), but of a radicalisation of the regime of knowledge that for Nietzsche commenced with Socrates. This implies the questioning of Truth(s) on all levels, including those that keep art and science apart as well as science epistemically aloof. The ‘artists with some subsidiary capacity for analysis and retrospection’ (BT/GT, Attempt 2; Künstler mit dem Nebenhange analytischer und retrospektiver Fähigkeiten) are those that bring rationality not irrationality to science, which is, according to Heit (2011: 9–10), ‘the immanent consequence of an honest [redlich] use of rationality’.
Those artists of ‘a type you would have to go looking for, but one you would not really want to seek’ (BT/GT, Attempt 2, amended translation; nach denen man suchen muss und nicht einmal suchen möchte) are not just artists one would readily find under this label, including – in 1886 – Richard Wagner (Heit 2011: 5n4). Such ‘future’ artists are more projected than real – a necessary site necessarily left open.
It is such a relationship to growth and future that for Azade Seyhan puts Nietzsche in early-Romantic company. As she says, ‘Since art is always alerted to the non-conclusive nature of reality, it is redeemed by its self-reflexive and ironic sensibility, whereas reason and logic are trapped in what Nietzsche calls “metaphysical delusion” (metaphysischer Wahnsinn). The persistent irony and mobility in which Nietzsche invests art aligns his thought unmistakably with that of the early Romantics’ (Seyhan 1992: 138; source of Nietzsche quotation not identified). Lacoue-Labarthe and Nancy (1988: 148n25) concur when they say, ‘One sees all that Nietzsche could have taken from romanticism […]. But it is surely the theme of the philosopher-artist that is most fundamentally romantic in his work.’ Despite such overlaps, there are voices, such as Judith Norman’s, who believe that ‘Nietzsche does not belong to this historical lineage [the one that links early Romanticism with Heidegger and deconstruction]’ since 'the idea of an a priori transcendental ground is foreign to him' (Norman 2002: 519). With our focus on the fragmentary, we suggest that both positions are valid: the fragmentary, indeed, is an key early Romantic trope, but it is also a concept through which to facilitate a departure.
Assuming that credibility is given to Nietzsche’s science-critical stance, which requires the concept of the ‘artist’ to be mobilised, it may be that the biographic can no longer be sidelined as that that simply provides the ground for his philosophy – a ground that, consequently, can be interpretatively harvested. Rather, embracing the fragmentary, Nietzsche has to insist on himself against our interpretations, as affirmative as they might be, since ‘himself’ is an inconclusive material becoming, and as such a fragment. Crucially, however, Nietzsche's becoming-artist can also be put as a question of music: What mode of music can overcome its impending timeliness?