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View all copies of this ISBN edition:. Synopsis This work has been selected by scholars as being culturally important, and is part of the knowledge base of civilization as we know it. Buy New Learn more about this copy. Other Popular Editions of the Same Title. Anglo-American philosophers have aligned him with various schools of post-analytic thought, seeing him as an idiosyncratic kind of psychologist or sociologist. He raged against democracy and egalitarianism, but also against nationalism and anti-Semitism. Nietzsche is often quoted in the chat rooms of the far right, and he also surfaces regularly in leftist discussions about the future of democracy.
Yet Nietzsche, like his fallen idol Richard Wagner , is at once emphatic and ambiguous, overbearing and elusive. I know my lot.
One day my name will be linked to the memory of something monstrous [ etwas Ungeheueres ]—to a crisis like none there has been on earth, to the most profound collision of conscience, to a verdict invoked against everything that until then had been believed, demanded, held sacred. I am no man, I am dynamite. The passage has been read as an eerie premonition of his future appropriation by the Nazis—although there is no way of knowing exactly what kind of crisis is meant.
Ungeheuer is an ambiguous word, hovering between the monstrous and the gigantic. Here is the sumptuous difficulty of Nietzsche: when you drill down on a word, an abyss of interpretation opens. The church where his father preached still stands; Nietzsche, the scourge of Christianity, is buried in a plot next to the building.
The elder Nietzsche, like his son, was afflicted by severe physical and mental problems—violent headaches, epileptic strokes, amnesiac episodes—and died at the age of thirty-five, when Friedrich was four. Nietzsche himself had a mental breakdown in middle age. The old story that his breakdown stemmed from syphilis is now widely doubted; a likelier explanation is a hereditary neurological or vascular disorder.
Neurologists in Belgium and Switzerland have concluded that he had cadasil , a genetic condition that causes repeated strokes. Nietzsche would soon assume a professorship in Basel, at the astonishingly young age of twenty-four, but he jumped at the chance to join the Wagner operation.
He then broke away, declaring his intellectual independence first with coded critiques and then with unabashed polemics. Accounts of this immensely complicated relationship are too often distorted by prejudice on one side or another. Nietzscheans and Wagnerians both tend to off-load ideological problems onto the rival camp; Prideaux succumbs to this temptation. Wagner, too, revered Greek culture, but he was fundamentally a man of the theatre, and tailored his ideals to the realities of the stage. At the first Bayreuth Festival, in , Nietzsche was crestfallen to discover that a viable theatre operation required the patronage of the nouveau riche and the fashionable.
Personal differences between the two men provide amusing anecdotes. Nietzsche made sporadic attempts at musical composition, one of which caused Wagner to have a laughing fit. The music is not very good, but it is not as bad as all that. But the disagreements went much deeper, revealing a rift between ideologies and epochs. Wagner embodied the nineteenth century, in all its grandeur and delusion; Nietzsche was the dynamic, destructive torchbearer of the twentieth.
When they first met, they shared an admiration for the philosophical pessimism of Arthur Schopenhauer, who saw a world governed by the insatiable striving of the will. Only through the renunciation of worldly desire, Schopenhauer posited, can we free ourselves from our incessant drives. Aesthetic experience is one avenue to self-overcoming—an idea that the art-besotted Nietzsche seized upon. Wagner, by contrast, claimed to value compassion above all other emotions.
In its place, Nietzsche praises hardness, force, cruelty. These views made Wagner wince, as the diaries of Cosima Wagner, his wife, attest.
Nietzsche not only rejected the sublime longings of nineteenth-century Romanticism; he also jettisoned the teleology of historical progress that had governed European thought since the Renaissance, and that had found its most formidable advocate in Hegel. Instead, Nietzsche grounded himself in a version of naturalism—the post-Darwinian conviction that humans are an animal species, led by no transcendent purpose. Between his final meeting with Wagner, in , and his mental collapse of , Nietzsche lived the life of an intellectual ascetic. Health problems caused him to resign his professorship in ; from then on, he adopted a nomadic life style, summering in the Swiss Alps and wintering, variously, in Genoa, Rapallo, Venice, Nice, and Turin.
He wrote a dozen books, of increasingly idiosyncratic character, poised between philosophy, aphoristic cultural criticism, polemic, and autobiography.
The landscape of the mind consumed his attention. He thought the way others feel. Translating Nietzsche is a difficult task, but the swagger of his prose, with its pithy strikes and sudden swerves, can be fairly readily approximated in English. Kaufmann, in his translations, brought to bear a strong, pugnacious style.
A series of translations from Cambridge University Press covered the gaps. These show a less awe-inspiring side of the philosopher, as he jots down items from his reading and delivers utterances esoteric, mundane, and bizarre:. Woman is so little satisfied with herself that she would rather permit herself to be beaten than—. The last thought is left blessedly unfinished.
Should I show it to you in my mirror? A solution for all its riddles? And you yourselves are also this will to power—and nothing else!
He generally resisted the epic long-windedness of nineteenth-century German prose, but here he makes an exception as he verbally acts out the condition of universal flux. Rather than fleeing abjectly from the will, as in Schopenhauer, one should seek to harness it, master it, ride it out. This cyclone of nuance goes missing when we reduce Nietzsche to maxims. Nor should we try to extract a system that can be summarized on a chalkboard. Monsters lurk in the Nietzschean deep. It cannot be a random mishap that so many unpleasant people have taken pleasure in his work.
One can, in fact, falsify anything, as a glance at the morning paper shows, but the point holds. However selective the Nazi appropriation of Nietzsche may have been, it replicated elements of his thought. Merely to announce a high regard for truth is no guarantee that truth will be uttered. Indeed, some of the most hideous acts in history have been committed by people who believe themselves to be in sole possession of absolute truth.