Lee Spinks' text on Friedrich Nietzsche is part of a recent series put out by the Routledge Press, designed under the general editorial direction of Robert Eaglestone (Royal Holloway, University of London), to explore the most recent and exciting ideas in intellectual development during the past century or so. To this end, figures such as Martin Heidegger, Sigmund Freud, Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, Paul Ricouer and other influential thinkers in critical thought are highlighted in the series, planned to include more than 21 volumes in all.
Spinks' text, following the pattern of the others, includes background information on Nietzsche and his significance, the key ideas and sources, and Nietzsche's continuing impact on other thinkers. As the series preface indicates, no critical thinker arises in a vacuum, so the context, influences and broader cultural environment are all important as a part of the study, something with which Nietzsche might have some argument.
Why is Nietzsche included in this series? Nietzsche is a foundational thinker for the modern times - every philosopher and intellectual of the past few generations has had to contend with his ideas or ideas generated in response or reaction to his, and his impact has gone far beyond narrow intellectual confines to influence psychology, politics, literature, sociology, philosophy, linguistics, history and anthropology. Spinks indicates that Nietzsche's primary focus is on issues of power, not just blunt political power of a sort that has often been misused using Nietzschean concepts as a justification, but the kind of intellectual power that recaptures something ancient and upsets the standard status quo of modern intellectual development on all levels.
It is fitting that Nietzsche should be included in this series, given that, while he is often considered more in the area of political, ethical, metaphysical and epistemological philosophies, his first book was in fact 'The Birth of Tragedy out of the Spirit of Music', which sets the stage for much of Nietsche's later works, not the least of which being Nietzsche's general tendency to be unsystematic and strewn across different pieces of writing over time. It takes a careful analyst and researcher such as Spinks to put things together in a coherent and orderly form for study unless one is to devote a great deal of time (something worthwhile, but not the kind of thing the average student of literary theory is likely to do).
Key ideas that Spinks highlights include the methods of genealogy and history for Nietzsche, how these work to develop the sense of working toward a system that goes beyond good and evil (Spinks has a chapter, and Nietzsche has a book of the same title), and the concepts Nietzsche is perhaps best noted for, the Uberman (Overman or Superman) and the Will to Power. It is this last pair of concepts that was most distorted in the Third Reich mentality of a Master Race; in fact, nothing could be further from Nietzsche's idea of a will to power that goes beyond the kinds of political and philosophical boundaries that fascism required (Heidegger was to experience a disenchantment with the Nazi party for similar ideological reasons).
Early in his career, Nietzsche set up a battle, between Dionysus and Apollo, representing the more pure primal forces on the one hand, and a degenerated, always-in-search-of-justification system of 'slave mentality' that he associated with the kind of intellectual rationalising of most moral systems - however, later in his career, Nietzsche came to see the primary opponent of his pure Dionysian system not that of Apollo, but of Christendom. One might wonder, actually, why he didn't see this earlier.
One of the useful features of the text is the side-bar boxes inserted at various points. For example, during the discussion on Nietzsche's development of Metaphor, there are brief discussions, set apart from the primary strand of the text, on the issue of Platonic Ideas as well as on the Stoics, developing further this idea should the reader not be familiar with it, or at least not in the way with which Nietzsche would be working with ideas derived from it. Each section on a key idea spans approximately twenty pages, with a brief summary concluding each, which gives a recap of the ideas (and provides a handy reference). Some of the concluding sections in this volume (unlike other volumes in the series) are not as handy as a recap, but do connect the primary ideas with the next chapter.
The concluding chapter, After Nietzsche, highlights some key areas of development in relation to other thinkers, as well as points of possible exploration for the reader. Spinks traces the influence of two primary texts (by Salome and by his sister Forster-Nietzsche) on shaping the image of Nietzsche for modern times, given his own inability to craft his image beyond his earliest years. Spinks also looks at Jaspers and Heidegger and their readings of Nietzsche, before exploring more precisely the work in literature (D.H. Lawrence, Thomas Mann, W.B. Yeats), philosophy (Derrida, Deluze, Sartre and other existentialists), history and feminism.
As do the other volumes in this series, Spinks concludes with an annotated bibliography of works by Nietzsche (primarily those available in authoritative English translation), and works on Nietzsche by principle scholars.
While this series focuses intentionally upon critical literary theory and cultural studies, in fact this is only the starting point. For Nietzsche (as for others in this series) the expanse is far too broad to be drawn into such narrow guidelines, and the important and impact of the ideas extends out into the whole range of intellectual development. As intellectual endeavours of every sort depend upon language, understanding, and interpretation, the thorough comprehension of how and why we know what we know is crucial.