A study of the life of philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche argues that geniuses are made, not born, discussing the work of a man who aimed at genius, absorbing the work of mentors and marshaling his creativity for his mission.
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Here, Pletsch (Intellectual History/Miami Univ., Ohio) describes both how Nietzsche consciously chose to become a genius and the cultural conditions that allowed him to do so--the cult of genius itself, its 18th-century secular origins, its function in a period of progress, and Nietzsche's redefinition of it. Pletsch offers little personal information about Nietzsche aside from his military service, his nearsightedness, his inability to relate to women. Born in a society that worshipped genius and in a family of intellectually gifted Lutheran ministers, Nietzsche, orphaned at age five and industrious, introverted, bright, and ambitious, modeled himself after a series of father-surrogates and became a distinguished if dissatisfied professor of classical philosophy. In his discipleship to Wagner (whom he later repudiated as a ``disease'' to be overcome), he found his voice as a philosopher and his status as a genius, which he considered a critical as well as a creative role. As Pletsch uses it, the term ``genius'' is a vocation, not a description; a calling, not a gift; a choice, not a destiny. Its relationship to performance, excellence, originality, and comprehensive knowledge is marginal. But if Nietzsche were not born with exceptional gifts, when did he become a genius and who ratified his status? And how can one reconcile this culturally based theory of genius with the psychological one Pletsch also introduces, a modified Freudian family romance? As Thomas Kuhn has argued in science and Harold Bloom in literature, creative achievements are often the result of choosing strong ``fathers,'' predecessors, to be overcome--success itself being a combination of the struggle with the father and serendipity. In spite of its decisive tone, Pletsch's intriguing study is speculative and needs to be seen in relation to other studies of creativity. -- Copyright ©1991, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.
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