Journal Article: “To Lie Beyond Good & Evil: A Musical Question of Truth”

Tijdschrift voor Filosofie 82, no.1 (May 2020): 57–92. Doi: 10.2143/TVF.82.1.0000000. Peer-reviewed article on Nietzsche, truth, and improvisation. Language: Dutch (draft in English).

Click here for a link to the PDF.

Keywords: Nietzsche, truth, lies, footing, correctness, art, music, improvisation.

Summary: To Lie Beyond Good and Evil: A Musical Question of Truth (Joris Roelofs)

In this article, I explore the tensions between the notion of truth as fixed, static — and the idea of truth as existing in a constant state of flux. This inquiry elaborates on Nietzsche’s philosophy with my own ideas about musical improvisation. In Nietzsche’s earlier work, truth is an ever-changing, Dionysian “flux of becoming,” something we cannot know. Truth provides nothing fixed. So, if we are to anchor our lives, we must create fixed “truths.” We have an artistic ability to do this, Nietzsche says. We create language and logic, rules and systems, all of which, though life-enhancing, are actually illusions, even lies. The early Nietzsche also proposes that the scientific personality tends to regard these structures as absolute truths. Unlike the scientist, however, the artist doesn’t seek absolute truth. Embracing life as illusion, the artist wants only to create new “truths.” Later, Nietzsche reverses this judgment. In Human, All Too Human, the scientific personality becomes the “free spirit” who gets closer to truth, while the artist regards self-created, fixed “truths” as absolute. Nietzsche posits a reciprocal relation- ship between science and art. Science, bereft of illusion, can be unbearable, while art, without science, is equally untenable. In this article, I expand on Nietzsche’s conception of truth by relating it with the act of musical improvisation — an act that combines science and art. To improvise, I argue, is to search, at every moment, for fluent, ever-changing truth, simultane- ously relying on fixed “truths,” like chords and meter — as well as other musical conventions. In the end, according to Nietzsche, we require scientific truth-seeking and the artistic quest for fixed “truths.” We seek fluidity and fixity; we need both truth and lies.