September 14, 2006 at 10:27 am | Posted in Books, Germany, Literary, Philosophy | Leave a comment


Richard Melson

September 2006



The Birth of Tragedy

Nietzsche published his first book in 1872 as The Birth of Tragedy, Out of the Spirit of Music (Die Geburt der Tragödie aus dem Geiste der Musik) and reissued it in 1886 as The Birth of Tragedy, Or: Hellenism and Pessimism (Die Geburt der Tragödie, Oder: Griechentum und Pessimismus. The later edition contained a prefatory essay, An Attempt at Self-Criticism, wherein Nietzsche commented on this very early work.

In contrast to the typically Enlightenment view of ancient Greek culture as noble, simple, elegant and grandiose,[8] Nietzsche characterises it as a conflict between two distinct tendencies – the Apollonian and Dionysian. The Appollonian in culture he sees as the principium individuationis (principle of individuation) with its refinement, sobriety and emphasis on superficial appearance, whereby man separates himself from the undifferentiated immediacy of nature. Immersion into that same wholeness characterises the Dionysian, recognisable by intoxication, irrationality and inhumanity; this shows the influence of Schopenhauer‘s view that non-rational forces underlie human creativity. Nietzsche describes how from Socrates onward the Apollonian had dominated Western thought, and raises German Romanticism (especially Richard Wagner) as a possible re-introduction of the Dionysian to the salvation of European culture.

Untimely Meditations

Started in 1873 and completed in 1876, this work comprises a collection of four (out of a projected 13) essays concerning the contemporary condition of European, especially German, culture.

    1. David Strauss: der Bekenner und der Schriftsteller, 1873 (David Strauss: the Confessor and the Writer) attacks David Strauss‘s The Old and the New Faith: A Confession (1871) which Nietzsche holds up as an example of the German thought of the time. He paints Strauss’s “New Faith” – scientifically-determined universal mechanism based on the progression of history – as a vulgar reading of history in the service of a degenerate culture, polemically attacking not only the book but also Strauss as a Philistine of pseudo-culture.

      • Vom Nutzen und Nachtheil der Historie für das Leben, 1874 (On the Use and Abuse of History for Life) offers instead of the prevailing view of “knowledge as an end in itself” an alternative way of reading history, one where living life becomes the primary concern; along with a description of how this might improve the health of a society.
      • Schopenhauer als Erzieher, 1874 (Schopenhauer as Educator) describes how the philosophic genius of Schopenhauer might bring on a resurgence of German culture. Nietzsche gives special attention to Schopenhauer’s individualism, honesty and steadfastness as well as his cheerfulness, despite Schopenhauer’s noted pessimism.

4.Richard Wagner in Bayreuth, 1876 investigates Richard Wagner‘s psychology — less flatteringly than Nietzsche’s friendship with his subject might suggest. Nietzsche considered not publishing it because of this, and eventually settled on drafts that criticised the musician less than they might have done. Nonetheless this essay foreshadows the imminent split between the two.

Human, All Too Human

Nietzsche supplemented the original edition of this work, first published in 1878, with a second part in 1879: Mixed Opinions and Maxims (Vermischte Meinungen und Sprüche), and a third part in 1880: The Wanderer and his Shadow (Der Wanderer und sein Schatten). The three parts appeared together in 1886 as Human, All Too Human, A Book for Free Spirits (Menschliches, Allzumenschliches, Ein Buch für freie Geister). This book represents the beginning of Nietzsche’s “middle period”, with a break from German Romanticism and from Wagner and with a definite positivist slant. Note the style: reluctant to construct a systemic philosophy, Nietzsche composed these works as a series of several hundred aphorisms, either single lines or one or two pages. This book comprises more a collection of debunkings of unwarranted assumptions than an interpretation, though it offers some elements of Nietzsche’s thought in his arguments: he uses his perspectivism and the idea of the will to power as explanatory devices, though the latter remains less developed than in his later thought.


In Daybreak: Reflections on Moral Prejudices (Morgenröte. Gedanken über die moralischen Vorurteile, 1881), Nietzsche de-emphasises the role of hedonism as a motivator and accentuates the role of a “feeling of power”. His relativism, both moral and cultural, and his critique of Christianity also reaches greater maturity. With this aphoristic book in its clear, calm and intimate style Nietzsche seems to invite a particular experience, rather than showing concern with persuading his readers to accept any point of view. He would develop many of the ideas advanced here more fully in later books.

The Gay Science

The Gay Science (Die fröhliche Wissenschaft, 1882), the largest and most comprehensive of Nietzsche’s middle-period books, continues the aphoristic style and contains more poetry than any other of his works. It has central themes of a joyful affirmation of life and of an immersion in a light-hearted scholarship that takes aesthetic pleasure out of life (the title refers to the Provençal phrase for the craft of poetry). As an example Nietzsche offers the doctrine of eternal recurrence, which ranks one’s life as the sole consideration when evaluating how one should act; this Nietzsche compares to the Christian view of an afterlife which emphasises a later reward at the cost of one’s immediate happiness. The Gay Science has however perhaps become best known for the statement “God is dead” which forms part of Nietzsche’s naturalistic and aesthetic alternative to traditional religion.

Thus Spoke Zarathustra

A break with his middle-period works, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, A Book for All and None (Also Sprach Zarathustra, Ein Buch für Alle und Keinen, 1883 – 1885) became Nietzsche’s best-known book and the one he considered the most important.[9] Noteworthy for its format, it comprises a philosophical work of fiction whose style often lightheartedly imitates that of the New Testament and of the Platonic dialogues, at times resembling Pre-Socratic works in tone and in its use of natural phenomena as rhetorical and explanatory devices. It also resplendantly abounds with references to the Western literary and philosophical traditions, implicitly offering an interpretation of these traditions and of their problems. Nietzsche achieves all of this through the character of Zarathustra (referring to the historic figure behind Zoroastrianism) who makes speeches on philosophic topics as he moves along a loose plotline marking his developement and the reception of his ideas. One can view this characteristic (following the genre of the Bildungsroman) as an inline commentary on Zarathustra (and Nietzsche’s) philosophy. All this, along with the book’s ambiguity and paradoxical nature, has helped its eventual enthusiastic reception by the reading public, but has frustrated academic attempts at analysis (as Nietzsche may have intended); and Thus Spoke Zarathustra remained for long unpopular as a topic for scholars (especially those in the Anglo-American analytic tradition), until the second half of the twentieth century brought widespread interest in Nietzsche and his unconventional style that does not distinguish between philosophy and literature. [10] It offers complete formulations of eternal recurrence, the will to power, and Nietzsche for the first time speaks of the Übermensch: themes that would dominate Nietzsche’s books from this point onwards.

Beyond Good and Evil

Of the three “late-period” writings of Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future (Jenseits von Gut und Böse. Vorspiel einer Philosophie der Zukunft, 1886) most closely resembles the aphoristic style of his middle period. Therein he identifies the qualities of genuine philosophers: imagination, self-assertion, danger, originality and the “creation of values” – all else he considers incidental. Continuing from this he contests some key pre-suppositions such as “self-consciousness” and “free-will” as used by some of the great members of the philosophic tradition. Instead of these traditional analyses, which Nietzsche paints as insufficient, he offers the will to power as an explanatory device, being part of his “perspective of life” which he regards as “beyond good and evil”, denying a universal morality for all human beings. The master and slave moralities feature prominently as Nietzsche re-evaluates deeply-held humanistic beliefs, portraying even domination, appropriation and injury to the weak as not universaly objectionable. A tone of moral relativism and perspectivism dominates throughout.

On the Genealogy of Morals

The three essays that make up On the Genealogy of Morals, A Polemic (Zur Genealogie der Moral, Eine Streitschrift, 1887) represent the last of Nietzsche’s works before his flurry of activity in 1888. Each essay comprises a series of paragraphs (like the longer aphorisms of some of his books) that discusses the details of his moral relativism, especially of how the will to power influences perspectives, and appears more unproblematically philosophical in style and tone than many of his books and all of those written afterwards. For these reasons this book has become a popular topic for scholarly analysis. [11]

  • Good and Evil’, ‘Good and Bad'” continues Nietzsche’s discussion of the Master-Slave Morality, maintaining that the slave morality (which labels “good” and “evil” compared to the less judgmental and more masterful “good” and “bad”) arises from a denial of life — as opposed to the vitalism of the master morality. Nietzsche identifies ressentiment as the driving force of the slave morality.
  • Guilt’, ‘Bad Conscience’, and Related Matters investigates the sources of conscience, especially “bad conscience”, and names cruelty as the base of punishment and self-punishment.[12] Cruelty as punishment of others provides gratification because thereby one imposes one’s will over another; cruelty to oneself happens through “bad conscience”, whereby one punishes oneself because of not holding to a self-imposed standard of dependability. In this way Nietzsche characterises altrusitic, “selfless”, behaviour as immense cruelty to oneself by imposing another’s will over oneself, an explanation he offers for Christianity and monotheism in general.
  • What Do Ascetic Ideals Mean? continues the theme. Nietzsche describes how such a paradoxical action as asceticism might serve the interests of life: through asceticism one can attain mastery over oneself. In this way one can express both ressentiment and the will to power. Nietzsche describes the morality of the ascetic priest (as characterised by Christianity as one where, finding oneself in pain, one places the blame for the pain on oneself and thereby attempts and attains mastery over the world,[13] a tactic that Nietzsche places behind secular science as well as behind religion.

The Case of Wagner

In his first book of a highly productive year, The Case of Wagner, A Musician’s Problem (Der Fall Wagner, Ein Musikanten-Problem, May-August 1888), Nietzsche launches into a devastating and unbridled attack upon the figure of Richard Wagner. While Wagner’s music is recognised as an immense cultural achievement it is also characterised as the product of decadence and nihilism and thereby sickness. It shows Nietzsche as a capable music critic, and is the setting for some of his further reflections on the nature of art and its relationship to the future health of humanity.

The Twilight of the Idols

The title of this highly polemic book, Twilight of the Idols, or How One Philosophizes with a Hammer (Götzen-Dämmerung, oder Wie man mit dem Hammer philosophiert, August-September 1888), word-plays upon Wagner’s opera, The Twilight of the Gods (Die Götterdämmerung). In this short work in the flurry of his last productive year, Nietzsche reiterates and elaborates some of the criticisms of major philosophic figures (Socrates, Plato, Kant and the Christian tradition), criticizes the German culture of his day as unsophisticated, and shoots some disapproving arrows at key French, British, and Italian cultural figures. In contrast to all these alleged representatives of cultural decadence, Nietzsche applauds Caesar, Napoleon, Goethe, Dostoevski, Thucydides and the Sophists as healthier and stronger types. The book states the transvaluation of all values as Nietzsche’s final and most important project, and gives a view of antiquity wherein the Romans for once take precedence over the ancient Greeks.

The Antichrist

In one of his best-known and most contentious works, The Antichrist, Curse on Christianity (Der Antichrist. Fluch auf das Christentum, September 1888), Nietzsche launches into a polemic, hyperbolic attack on the morals of Christianity — the view of Nietzsche as an enthusiastic attacker of Christianity largely arises from this book. Therein he elaborates on his criticisms of Christianity which had occured in his earlier works, but now using a sarcastic tone, expressing a disgust over the way the slave-morality corrupted noble values in ancient Rome. He frames certain elements of the religion — the Gospels, Paul, the martyrs, priests and the crusades — as creations of ressentiment for the upholding of the unhealthy at the cost of stronger sentiments. Even in this extreme denunciation Nietzsche does not begrudge some respect to the figure of Jesus and some Christian elements, but this book abandons the relatively even-handed (if inflammatory) analysis of his earlier criticisms for outright polemic — Nietzsche proposes an “Anti-Christian” morality for the future: the transvaluation of all values.

Ecce Homo

Though Ecce Homo, How One Becomes What One Is (Ecce Homo, Wie man wird, was man ist, October-November 1888) appears as a curiously-styled autobiography (with sections entitled “Why I Am So Clever”, “Why I Am So Wise”, “Why I Write Such Good Books”) it offers much more of a history of Nietzsche’s ideas than of the man himself, highlighting Nietzsche’s project of genealogical analysis as well as de-emphasising the splits between philosophy and literature, personality and philosophy, and body and mind. The author does this by tying certain qualities of his thought with idiosyncracities of his physical person, as well as extremely candid remarks occasionally made throughout his half-joking self-adulation (a mockery of Socratic humility). After this self-description, wherein Nietzsche proclaims the goodness of everything that has happened to him (including his father’s early death and his near-blindness — an example of amor fati) — he offers brief insights into all of his works, concluding with the section “Why I Am A Destiny”, calmly laying out the principles he places at the center of his project: eternal recurrence and the transvaluation of all values.

Nietzsche Contra Wagner

A selection of passages concerning Wagner and art in general Nietzsche extracted from his works from the period 1878 to 1887 is given in Nietzsche Contra Wagner, Out of the Files of a Psychologist (Nietzsche contra Wagner, Aktenstücke eines Psychologen, December 1888). They serve as a background for the comparison Nietzsche would make between his own aesthetics and those of Wagner and his description of how Wagner became corrupted through Christianity, Aryanism and anti-semitism.

The Unpublished Notebooks

An immense amount of material is contained within Nietzsche’s nachlass which discuss at great length the issues around which Nietzsche’s philosophy revolves. [14] These were arranged for publication as The Will to Power by Nietzsche’s sister, Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche, who executed his literary estate.Later investigation would reveal that she had been extremely selective with what she included and gave these excerpts an order different to that of the author, leading to the current opinion that her manuscript is a revisionist corruption bringing her brother’s text in line with her beliefs, which he vehemently opposed. On the strength of this manuscript, Elisabeth fostered sympathy for her brother’s works among the Nazis, and her revisionism forms the cornerstone of the defense of Nietzsche against the charges of fascism and anti-semitism.Even when disregarding the controversy around Elisabeth, the unpublished notebooks are a source of contention in Nietzsche scholarship because of the question of how much value should be placed in them when evaluating the philosophy expounded in his published works. While the published works are normally privileged as the mature statements of Nietzsche’s beliefs, the view championed by

Martin Heidegger sees the notebooks as a place where more complete investigation was given the central elements of Nietzsche’s philosophy, and they are also highly valued in a psychoanalytic approach because of holding views without the self-censorship publishing requires. Many scholars instead advocate a case-by-case investigation of what is written in the notebooks compared to what was published, whereas others, including those practicing the approach of deconstruction (especially Jacques Derrida), place the notebooks with the published works in a literary continuum.

Nietzsche’s influence and reception

Nietzsche’s reception has proved a rather confused and complex affair. Many Germans eventually discovered his appeals for greater individualism and personality development in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, but responded to those appeals in diverging ways.

He had some following among left-wing Germans in the 1890s; in 1894–95, German conservatives wanted to ban his work as subversive. By the First World War, however, he had acquired a reputation as a source of right-wing German militarism. The Dreyfus Affair (ca 1894 – 1906) provides another example of his reception: the French anti-semitic Right labelled the Jewish and Leftist intellectuals who defended Alfred Dreyfus as “Nietzscheans”.During the interbellum, certain Nazis employed a highly selective reading of Nietzsche’s work to advance their ideology, notably Alfred Baeumler in his reading of The Will to Power. The era of Nazi rule (1933 – 1945) saw Nietzsche’s writings widely studied in German (and, after 1938, Austrian) schools and universities. The Nazis viewed Nietzsche as one of their “founding fathers”. Although there exist few — if any — similarities between Nietzsche’s views and Nazism (see political views), phrases like “the will to power” became common in Nazi circles. The wide popularity of Nietzsche among Nazis stemmed in part from the endeavors of his sister, Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche, the editor of Nietzsche’s work after his 1889 breakdown, and an eventual Nazi sympathizer. Nietzsche himself thoroughly disapproved of his sister’s anti-Semitic views; in a letter to her he wrote:

You have committed one of the greatest stupidities—for yourself and for me! Your association with an anti-Semitic chief expresses a foreignness to my whole way of life which fills me again and again with ire or melancholy. … It is a matter of honour with me to be absolutely clean and unequivocal in relation to anti-Semitism, namely, opposed to it, as I am in my writings. I have recently been persecuted with letters and Anti-Semitic Correspondence Sheets. My disgust with this party (which would like the benefit of my name only too well) is as pronounced as possible.

— Friedrich Nietzsche, Letter to His Sister, Christmas 1887


Mazzino Montinari, while editing Nietzsche’s posthumous works in the 1960s, found that Förster-Nietzsche, while editing the posthumous fragments making up The Will to Power, had cut extracts, changed their order, and added titles of her own invention [1].The psychologist Carl Jung recognized Nietzsche’s importance early on: he held a seminar on Nietzsche’s Zarathustra in 1934. [15] According to Ernest Jones, biographer and personal acquaintance of Sigmund Freud, Freud frequently referred to Nietzsche as having “more penetrating knowledge of himself than any man who ever lived or was likely to live”. [16] Yet Jones also reports that Freud emphatically denied that Nietzsche’s writings influenced his own psychological discoveries. Moreover, Freud took no interest in philosophy while a medical student, forming his opinion about Nietzsche later in life.Early twentieth-century thinkers influenced by Nietzsche include: philosophers

Theodor Adorno, Georg Brandes, Henri Bergson, Martin Buber, Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, Emil Cioran, Michel Foucault, and Muhammad Iqbal; sociologist Max Weber; theologian Paul Tillich; novelists Hermann Hesse, André Malraux, André Gide and D. H. Lawrence; psychologists Alfred Adler, Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers, and Rollo May; poets Rainer Maria Rilke, and William Butler Yeats; playwrights George Bernard Shaw, and Eugene O’Neill; and authors Menno ter Braak, and Jack London. American writer H.L. Mencken avidly read and translated Nietzsche’s works and has gained the soubriquet “the American Nietzsche”.In 1936 Martin Heidegger lectured on the “Will to Power as a Work of Art”; he later published four large volumes of lectures on Nietzsche. Thomas Mann‘s essays mention Nietzsche with respect. One of the characters in Mann’s 1947 novel Doktor Faustus represents Nietzsche fictionally. In 1938 the German existentialist Karl Jaspers wrote the following about the influence of Nietzsche and the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard:

The contemporary philosophical situation is determined by the fact that two philosophers, Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, who did not count in their times and, for a long time, remained without influence in the history of philosophy, have continually grown in significance. Philosophers after Hegel have increasingly returned to face them, and they stand today unquestioned as the authentically great thinkers of their age. … The effect of both is immeasurably great, even greater in general thinking than in technical philosophy …

— Jaspers, Reason and Existenz

The appropriation of Nietzsche’s work by the Nazis, combined with the rise of analytic philosophy, ensured that British and American academic philosophers would almost completely ignore him until at least 1950. Even George Santayana, an American philosopher whose life and work betray some similarity to Nietzsche’s, dismissed Nietzsche in his 1916 Egotism in German Philosophy as a “prophet of Romanticism”. Analytic philosophers, if they mentioned Nietzsche at all, characterized him as a literary figure rather than as a philosopher. Nietzsche’s present stature in the English-speaking world owes much to the exegetical writings and improved Nietzsche translations by the German-American philosopher Walter Kaufmann, beginning with the 1950 publication of the first edition of his Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist.

It is evident at once that Nietzsche is far superior to Kant and Hegel as a stylist; but it also seems that as a philosopher he represents a sharp decline—and men have not been lacking who have not considered him a philosopher at all—because he had no “system.” Yet this argument is hardly cogent. Schelling and Hegel, Spinoza and Aquinas had their systems; in Kant’s and Plato’s case the word is far less applicable; and of the many important philosophers who very definitely did not have systems one need only mention Socrates and many of the pre-Socratics. Not only can one defend Nietzsche on this score—how many philosophers today have systems?—but one must add that he had strong philosophic reasons for not having a system.

— Walter Kaufmann, Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist, p. 79

Nietzsche’s influence on continental philosophy increased dramatically after the second World War, especially among the French intellectual Left and post-structuralists. Jacques Derrida, Jean-Luc Nancy, and Michel Foucault all owe a heavy debt to Nietzsche. Gilles Deleuze and Pierre Klossowski wrote monographs drawing new attention to his work, and a 1972 conference at Cérisy-la-Salle ranks as the most important event in France for a generation’s reception of Nietzsche.

Harold Bloom has described Nietzsche as “Emerson‘s belated rival”. Bloom’s theory of the “anxiety of influence” betrays a Nietzschean influence. Others influenced by Nietzsche include “Death of God” theologian Thomas Altizer; novelists Nikos Kazantzakis, Mikhail Artsybashev, Jack Kerouac, Donna Tartt, Philippe Sollers and Lu Xun; musicians Jim Morrison and Marilyn Manson; the Church of Satan and founder Anton LaVey; and Stanley Kubrick‘s film 2001: A Space Odyssey.


    1. The second inquiry offers the psychology of the conscience — which is not, as people may believe, ‘the voice of God in man’: it is the instinct of cruelty that turns back after it can no longer discharge itself externally. Cruelty is here exposed for the first time as one of the most ancient and basic substrata of culture that simply cannot be imagined away.(Nietzsche, Friedrich, Ecco Homo, trans. Walter Kaufmann, p. 312)
    2. The final sentence of the book puts it like this: “For man would rather will even nothingness than ‘not will.'” (Kaufman’s trans.)
    3. Giorgio Colli and Mazzino Montinari compiled a complete collection of these notebooks totalling 5000 pages, compared to the 3500 pages of the Großoktavausgabe edition of Nietzsche’s complete works which includes The Will to Power.
    4. Jung Timeline, [2]
    5. Jones, The Life and Work of Sigmund Freud

      • Pippin, Robert, Nietzsche’s Alleged Farewell: The Premodern, Modern and Postmodern Nietzsche.
      • Salaquarda, Jörg, Nietzsche and the Judeo-Christian Tradition.
      • Schrift, Alan D, Nietzsche’s French Legacy.
      • Solomon, Robert C, Nietzsche’s Ad Hominem: Perspectivism, Personality and Ressentiment Revisited.
      • Strong, Tracy B, Nietzsche’s Political Misappropriation.
  1. Kaufman, Walter, Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist, p. 22.
  2. Schaberg, William,The Nietzsche Canon, University of Chicago Press, 1996, p32.
  3. Schaberg, William,The Nietzsche Canon, University of Chicago Press, 1996, p32.
  4. A biography on Spir.
  5. Kaufman, Walter, Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist, pp. 306–340.
  6. The Portable Nietzsche, trans. Walter Kaufmann.
  7. Schain, Richard. “Nietzsche’s Visionary Values – Genius or Dementia? [1]
  8. Johann WInckelmann, History of Ancient Art, 1764
  9. Nietzsche, Frederich “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” in the chapter Why I Write Such Good Books in Ecce Homo, 1888
  10. Behler, Ernst Nietzsche in the Twentieth Century in The Cambridge Companion to Nietzsche, Magnus and Higgins (ed), Cambridge Univ. Press, 1996, pp. 281-319
  11. The Cambridge Companion to Nietzsche alone contains five essays (excluding the one that gives overviews of each of his works and forms one of the main references for this section) that discusses this book at length:


  • Wicks, Robert, “Friedrich Nietzsche”, in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2004 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), [3].Magnus and Higgins, “Nietzsche’s works and their themes”, in The Cambridge Companion to Nietzsche, Magnus and Higgins (ed.), University of Cambrudge Press, 1996, pp.21-58

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