On the Genealogy of Morals A Polemic. By way of clarification and supplement to my last book Beyond Good and Evil (Oxford World's Classics) Paperback – 14 Aug 2008
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About the Author
Douglas Smith is Lecturer in French Studies at the University of Warwick. He is currently preparing a book on the reception of Nietzsche in France.
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Lost in Translation?
I don't read German but I am sometimes tempted to learn if only to read this work in it's original language. And after reading this translation, I am more than ever reminded of that desire.
I own a Dover Thrift edition of this work, which I annotated and highlighted to death, and which is sadly printed on such dreadful quality stock (one rank above toilet paper), that I recently decided to try and get a new copy; which is what this translation is and is. Sadly I don't currently have the other here to compare but I sincerely wish I did because when I read through Smith's translation I highlighted very little of interest. Now It could be that I have grown since first reading and that the ideas herein have assimilated to my weltanschauung, but I think that those might be slightly ambitious claims - even if that was the desirous outcome of all good reading.
It seems to me that a lot of `claims' about what Nietzsche was and stood for - a lot of which are eluded to in the secondary data of the introduction are not in fact there in this primary source. Lots of the inferences and ideas which are routinely attributed to Herr Nietzsche are in fact either generous translations, utter fabrications or simply misplaced to other texts.
In this version he spends an awful lot of time deriding Wagner and the Jews (although according to the commentaries included in both the introduction and the notes Nietzsche has apparently been absolved of being an anti-Semite - whatever that term now means). He does, however, provide little or no Lyotardian postmodern rhetoric on the the Judaeo-Christian mafia and the meta narrative (grand récit). Nor the post-Enlightenment shattering of god and the resulting shards of truths that scatter the ontological floor (Lyotard's petit récit). Nor does this translation really plant the seed of morality firmly in the flowerbed of organised monolithic theology of the Abrahamic tradition and there lay all responsibility for that which blooms from such source.
So, all in all, I'm a bit lost. Maybe I just didn't read this text very well, maybe I passed the signposts and forgot to grab my highlighter, maybe I am slipping, maybe. Or maybe Herr Nietzsche's philosophical and epistemological musings have become like his actual later works, collected and re-edited to produce a kind of Nietzsche-by-numbers, a Nietzsche-for-dummies that is liberally carved off the bone of the primary sources to give a body of secondary musings, interpretations and assumptions that were not actually there. the ghost of Nietzsche haunts the present shouting `I don't say that!' who knows?
edit: the importance of his thesis will diminish over time now that its clear that there is an evolutionary base to morality, but his writings are a brilliant attempt at deconstruction, in many ways MORE brilliant than the french who came after him (e.g. foucault). when i said that it was required reading i meant for academics in the humanities or social sciences where they are bound to encounter constructionist views like this. they should know the source and have grappled with the best. if you survive reading this and you are still not a social constructionist afterwards, then congratulations: you won the boss-fight. there is no more level and you are awesome.
GOM combines two qualities that make it uniquely useful for the apprentice. It is a simply structured work, consisting of three essays - essentially three chapters - on distinct but interrelated topics. And it constitutes one of Nietzsche's most mature works, prior to any suspicion of mental deterioration.
Part of the reason for this lies in explicit authorial intent. GOM is purportedly a commentary of Beyond Good and Evil (BGE) which is purportedly a commentary on Thus Spake Zarathustra (TSZ). As a fictional narrative, TSZ sounds great for a starting point. Upon wonky advisement, that's where I started. But its poetic and mythological elements make it unique and highly challenging. And despite its bad boy rep, BGE is a notoriously difficult piece of philosophical writing.
As to the content itself, one of the great boons of GOM is that it takes the student beyond the titanic trio of topics - will-to-power, eternal recurrence and the superman - that tend to overshadow the rest of Nietzsche's philosophy for the beginner. Here, in GOM, we get exposure to many of his 'second tier' topics like ressentiment, master/slave morality and perspectivism. In fact, in GOM you gain exposure to many of the tertiary concepts that make up the language-game of Nietzsche's philosophy: pathos of distance, order of rank, herd-instinct, blond beast, subterranean, tartufferie, and intellectual hygiene to name a few.
I feel compelled to say something about this particular translation too. It is instantly likeable. Not only has Douglas Smith produced a highly readable translation, it seems fresh, even buoyant, compared to some of the older translations. For the first time I got the impression that Nietzsche had a sense of wry humor and liveliness as a writer - two of his own key virtues I believe! With some translations, he can read like a cross between a highly-strung pedant and Richard Dawkins on a downer. Not so here.
Smith has proved a concise-but-meaty Introduction, a select Biography and a handy Chronology. More noteworthy are his Explanatory Notes, which cover not only matters of translation and language, but also provide information of the people, concepts, references, events, quotations, schools and other allusions in the text. I also found it a treat to have an index on one of Nietzsche's works.
For me to comment on the content of GOM itself would be superfluous. Two eccentric observations will suffice. With reference to Professor Dawkins above, it interests me that in GOM Nietzsche presents us with some other dichotomies than "Dionysus against the Crucified". Here we have "Rome against Judea" (1:16) and "Plato versus Homer: that is the complete, the real antagonism..." (3:25). Even, dare I name it, the Old Testament versus the New Testament (3:22). No single dichotomy or perspective will ever explain the Neitzschean mind.
Also, Nietzsche makes reference to depression a few times in essay three when speaking of the sickly, fatigued nature of those with slave morality (ps. 113, 117). This, along with his frequent references to optimism and pessimism, interest me greatly. I would love it if someone would relate Nietzsche's ideas here to modern notions of mental health and the recent phenomenon of 'positive psychology'. To my ears, Nietzsche often resembles no-one as much as a self-help author rather than any kind of traditional philosopher. Heresy, I know. But good heresy, I hope, in the original sense of the word 'good' anyway...
And if you don't get this last sentence, then that's why you need to get this book.
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