Today, after the rise of postmodernism and the never-ending expansion of theory in the academy, it sometimes seems as if there are innumerable interpretations of Nietzsche. But it was not always thus. Generally speaking, way back in the sixties and early seventies, those of us who read Nietzsche seriously were influenced by only a handful of interpreters (the 'Nietzsche Interpretation Industry' as we know it today had yet to rise); mostly, the staid existentialism of Karl Jaspers ("Nietzsche: An Introduction to the Understanding of His Philosophical Activity"), the sobriety of Walter Kaufmann ("Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist"), or the analytically minded work ("Nietzsche As Philosopher") of Arthur Danto. For us, this anthology carried the force of revelation! Today, postmodernism may almost seem old-fashioned, if not yet quaint; but back then Deleuze, Derrida, Klossowski and Kofman were quite new to most of us - and, to be completely honest, most of us barely had any knowledge of Heidegger himself!
Oh yes, of Heidegger's view of Nietzsche there was certainly no end to intimations and rumors; but remember, his epoch-making lectures on Nietzsche had yet to appear in English. Heidegger's "Nietzsche" first appeared (again, in English) as four hardcover volumes that were published separately, if memory serves, throughout the early 1980's. The paperback anthology that we are here reviewing first appeared in 1977. Indeed, I believe that even Heidegger's seminal essay, "The word of Nietzsche: 'God is dead'", only first appeared (in translation) that very same year, in the collection of Heidegger's essays titled "The Question Concerning Technology, and Other Essays".
Now, all these essays in this Nietzsche anthology before us can, to greater or lesser degree, be considered part of the post-Heidegger Nietzsche response. That is to say, they are postmodern. But it would not be correct to say that this book is merely dated. Three contributors appear here who, I believe, still have not had any book translated into English: Jean Granier, Henri Birault, and Paul Valadier. Of these last, I found Jean Granier especially interesting, and if you haven't seen his work I would recommend this collection for his two essays alone.
Looking back, there are only two authors who I am surprised to find missing from this superb collection. The first is Georges Bataille. Like Heidegger, his work was formative to many of the contributors to this volume. His book on Nietzsche ("Sur Nietzsche, volunte de chance") first appeared in the forties. I think it would have been useful if an excerpt from it had appeared in this volume. (Of course, Bataille's book now appears in English as "On Nietzsche".) The other surprising omission is the two great Nietzsche essays ('Nietzsche, Freud, Marx' and 'Nietzsche, Genealogy, History') of Michel Foucault. This strong collection of essays that we are here reviewing would've been improved by the inclusion of either of these essays by Foucault. Fortunately, both of these essays have been collected in the anthology, "Aesthetics, Method, and Epistemology: Essential Works of Foucault, 1954- 1984". The first essay contains his famous ruminations on these three 'Masters of Suspicion', while the second nicely demonstrates the difference between Nietzsche and Foucault's understanding of genealogy. The difference, I believe, boils down to the difference between psychology and history...
Now, since we are looking at the reception of this book back in the seventies, there are several important authors whose books were available, but, to my embarrassment, I had yet to encounter any of them at that time. More knowledgeable readers would have already read them. Of these, I would venture that the most important are Karl Löwith and Joan Stambaugh. Löwith's book, "From Hegel to Nietzsche", had appeared in English in the sixties and it gives us a first-rate discussion of the transformations philosophy endured in the nineteenth century. Joan Stambaugh's briiliant book, "Nietzsche's Thought of the Eternal Return", appeared here in the early seventies but, disgaracefully, I only became aware of it in the new millenium. Both of these authors were also very aware of Heidegger.
The table of contents for the 1977 first edition of this book (which I have in front of me) is as follows:
Part I. Main Themes, 1;
Nietzsche and Metaphysical Language, Michel Haar, 5;
The Will to Power, Alphonso Lingis, 37;
Who is Nietzsche's Zarathustra?, Martin Heidegger, 64;
Active and Reactive, Gilles Deleuze, 80;
Nietzsche's Experience of the Eternal Return, Pierre Klossowski, 107;
The Limits of Experience: Nihilism, Maurice Blanchot, 121;
Part II. Oblique Entry, 129;
Neitzsche's Conception of Chaos, Jean Granier, 135;
Nomad Thought, Gilles Deleuze, 142;
Nietzsche: Life as Metaphor, Eric Blondel, 150;
The Question of Style, Jacques Derrida, 176;
Perspectivism and Interpretation, Jean Granier, 190;
Metaphor, Symbol, Metamorphosis, Sarah Kofman, 201;
Part III. Transfiguration, 215;
Beatitude in Nietzsche, Henri Birault, 219;
Eternal Recurrence and Kingdom of God, Thomas J.J. Altizer, 232;
Dionysus versus the Crucified, Paul Valadier, 247;
Select Bibliography, 263;
Notes on Contributors, 265;
Of course, some of these authors have become quite famous, or, if you prefer, notorious, over the subsequent decades. Heidegger, Deleuze, and Derrida all went on to become virtual 'rock stars' even in the Anglo-American philosophical world. I believe that of the above translated essays, only the ones by Heidegger and Derrida had appeared earlier in English translation. Other contributors who were especially important to me were Klossowski, Kofman and Blondel. Perhaps a few words on them will be in order because everyone and her brother has read Heidegger, Deleuze, and Derrida.
Klossowski's contribution was excerpted from his book, "Nietzsche et le Cercle Vicieux", 1969. Much later this book was translated as, "Nietzsche and the Vicious Circle". The essay in this anthology before us is intelligent; he presents a very coherent and compelling understanding of Eternal Return.
"What is at first sight the most crushing pronouncement -namely, the endless recommencement of the same acts, the same sufferings- henceforth appears as redemption itself, as soon as the soul knows that it has already lived through other selves and experiences and thus is destined to live through even more. Those other selves and experiences will henceforth deepen and enrich the only life that it knows here and now. What has prepared this present life and what now prepares it in turn for still others remains itself totally unsuspected by consciousness. (p. 117.)"
Heraclitus said that you cannot step into the same river twice. Nietzsche, as here interpreted by Klossowski, seemingly claims that you cannot even (perhaps more clearly, 'should not') really remain yourself from one step to the next! However, it was the 6th chapter ('The Vicious Circle as a Selective Doctrine') of his book that I found to be most profound. "As Nietzsche's thought unfolded, it abandoned the strictly speculative realm in order to adopt, if not simulate, the preliminary elements of a conspiracy", we read in the Introduction to Klossowski's book. This 'esoteric' conspiracy is compellingly alluded to, even adhered to, but also avoided in the amazing sixth chapter. I strongly recommend reading the book after reading the essay.
Another contributor to the famous collection of essays called the `New Nietzsche' was Eric Blondel. The essay in this anthology is a translation of, "Nietzsche, la vie et la métaphore". Later, Blondel would write a book "Nietzsche: le corps et la culture" that also would find its way into English. The essay in our anthology, as well as the book, is very good. One might describe his position as a 'semi-postmodern' discussion of the intersection of body and culture in the texts of Nietzsche that is quite informative. What I especially liked about his book was that he not only sets himself against `systemizers' who wish to find in (or give to) Nietzsche a Logos (like, I suppose, Heidegger) but also those interpretations, like those of (I think) Derrida and perhaps even Kofman, where "under the pretext of `textuality' the text found itself desubstantialized or rather deprived of substance. (p. 9 "Nietzsche: the Body and Culture".)" Instead of words, images and metaphors merely referring to themselves, endlessly over and over again (the typical postmodern gesture!), Blondel argues that, "in Nietzsche images are interpretations of something, metaphors of the body. (op. cit., p. 10)" ...Imagine that; Nietzsche is actually speaking of something! Who knew!?! I have always found Blondel's combination of psychological and cultural analysis with philosophical interpretation superb. After the essay in this collection, also have a look at his book. He deserves to be read more often.
Now to the last of the three contributors that I wanted to here mention, Sarah Kofman. She has another important postmodern understanding of Nietzsche. (On a side note I have been looking for a copy of the translation of her well-regarded 'Explosion' -a commentary on Nietzsche's "Ecce Homo"- for several years and I am still looking for it.) Among the contributors to this important collection her work ('Nietzsche and Metaphor') on Nietzsche has been unfairly neglected by most readers in the Anglo-Saxon world. It seems that here she is much better known for her work on feminism and psychoanalysis and also the Holocaust. Often thought of as a `Derridean' because of an abiding interest in metaphor and interpretation, she is really too original to fully deserve either the designation or the accusation of discipleship. Also, be sure to check out the appendix of her book which is a study of Jean Granier's Nietzsche. The final sentence of this study needs to be turned over carefully: "Everything Sacred is introduced by man, and Nietzsche's philosophy is no humanism." For Kofman, "Nietzsche is indeed an atheist".
And with that, I would like to turn to the very 'touchy' subject of Nietzsche's (ahem) 'mysticism'. That, broadly speaking, is the subject of the third section ('Transfiguration') of our anthology. Now, Nietzsche of course and quite obviously has repudiated the monotheists and their Creator-God. But is it correct to place Nietzsche among our contemporary 'New Atheists'? One really does wonder about the accuracy, and indeed, the sanity, of placing an author who could triumphantly shout of himself,
"I, the last disciple of the philosopher Dionysus - I, the teacher of the eternal recurrence",
towards the end of 'The Twilight of the Idols, or state that
"My formula for greatness in a human being is amor fati: that one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity. Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it--all idealism is mendaciousness in the face of what is necessary--but love it" (in Ecce Homo, section 10),
among the likes of Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, and Hitchens.
Of course, none of our contributors here argue that Nietzsche is a 'believer'. However, they find, in their different ways, that religious sentiments (in some sense) live on in Nietzsche's doctrines of amor fati, Dionysus, and Eternal Recurrence. These are intended by Nietzsche to be beyond any secular understanding. In this vein, after reading the three final contributions to our anthology, one might turn to Bataille ("Theory of Religion") and also Stambaugh ("The Other Nietzsche") for some more insight into the 'other Nietzsche' and his uses.
I have reviewed this book using my old Dell Publishing 1977 edition. But I have examined the latest edition in the store and I believe the only change is that the Bibliography has been expanded and updated. These essays whetted my appetite, back in the seventies, for a Nietzsche wholly unlike the academic Nietzsche that one usually encountered in the academic literature of the time. Today one wonders if all these postmodern tendencies have become but another orthodoxy waiting to be overthrown. Five stars for a brilliant collection of essays that shook Nietzsche Interpretation to the foundations back in the seventies.
But where is the next 'New Nietzsche'?