A Nietzsche Compendium (Barnes & Noble Library of Essential Reading): Beyond Good and Evil, On the Genealogy of Morals, Twilight of the Idols, The Antichrist, and Ecce Homo

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9780760791103: A Nietzsche Compendium (Barnes & Noble Library of Essential Reading): Beyond Good and Evil, On the Genealogy of Morals, Twilight of the Idols, The Antichrist, and Ecce Homo
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This convenient new compendium contains the five most philosophically significant of Nietzsche’s post-Thus Spoke Zarathustra writings. Nietzsche wrote of these works that he intended them as “fish hooks” for catching readers who shared his sense that a cataclysmic shift in human psychology had suddenly occurred with the advent of nihilism – the uncanny and pervasive feeling that life is devoid of all meaning, purpose, and value. Taken together these books offer the reader a definitive account of Nietzsche’s mature philosophy as he intended it to be presented and a sweeping attack upon everything the modern Western world holds to be good about itself.

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About the Author:

Friedrich Nietzsche was born in 1844, in Saxony, Germany.  He was a brilliant student and a prodigy in the burgeoning field of philology (the analysis of the grammar, syntax, and vocabulary of ancient languages), receiving the position of full professor at the philology department of the University of Basel, Switzerland, at the unprecedented age of 24.  His first book, The Birth of Tragedy Out of the Spirit of Music, published in 1872, propounded a groundbreaking reinterpretation of pre-Socratic, ancient Greek culture which ultimately supplanted the romanticized ideal of “ancient Greece” that had held sway in European intellectual circles since the Renaissance.  His subsequent publications would do little in Germany during his productive lifetime but cement his reputation as a gifted but unduly contentious writer and thinker. Nietzsche suffered a complete mental breakdown in late 1888.  However, in the period immediately preceding, he was at his most prolific, producing numerous major works between 1886 and 1889, four of which were penned in 1888 alone. By the time he died in 1900, his works were already becoming internationally recognized as masterpieces of philosophy and literature.

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This convenient new compendium contains the five most philosophically significant of Nietzsche’s post-Thus Spoke Zarathustra writings. In his characteristically idiosyncratic literary biography, Ecce Homo, Nietzsche writes that the books he composed after his renowned Zarathustra are “fish hooks” for catching readers who share his sense that a cataclysmic shift in human psychology has just occurred. Alas, Nietzsche laments, in his time there were “no fish.” No one else had heard the ominous splitting of history in two with the advent of nihilism—the uncanny and pervasive feeling that life is devoid of all meaning, purpose, and value—that so profoundly affected Nietzsche he could do nothing else with his life but articulate this event. “Nihilism is at our door,” Nietzsche famously wrote. Do we perceive it yet? After more than a century, do we recognize that the psychological landscape in which we move about is the very one described by Nietzsche? How many of us, even after thoroughly reading his books, see that if we burrow deep enough into the intractable dilemmas of our age, we discover at their roots Nietzsche’s preoccupation: “The aim is lacking: ‘Why’ finds no answer...”? It is often said that Nietzsche is self-contradicting, confusing, and even incomprehensible. Yet the books gathered together in this volume articulate his distinct perspective at least as clearly and consistently as most other influential philosophers in the history of the West have articulated theirs. Moreover, these works are written in a beautifully stylized and frequently poetic language that dispenses with virtually all technical jargon. Each of Nietzsche’s sentences and paragraphs, as well as his whole books, are masterfully crafted works of art in addition to being intellectual lightening bolts that lay bare with every flash a radically new way of grasping reality, the world, and ourselves. Why, then, the persistent lament about Nietzsche’s obscurity? Perhaps the fault for this lies not so much in Nietzsche’s writings as in ourselves. Perhaps it is due to the fact that we are in denial about the possible existence of the reality Nietzsche describes. We couldn’t continue with life as usual if we truly took him seriously, yet not knowing how otherwise to proceed, we simply “don’t understand him." This, however, would not be the case if we were “fish” like those Nietzsche seeks to catch with his last major works. Such fish already have gills for the oxygen of the reality Nietzsche describes. In fact, they are anxiously seeking entry to that reality, for they have an intuition that only there will they breathe freely. In the hope that there are by now many such fish, this introduction to Nietzsche’s five most straightforward elaborations of his perspective attempts to bait his hooks with a brief account of several of Nietzsche’s key themes and their direct relevance to easily recognizable features of our contemporary social and cultural reality.

 

Friedrich Nietzsche was born in 1844, in Saxony, Germany. His father, a protestant minister, died while Nietzsche was still a youth, and as a result he was raised predominantly by three powerful women: his mother, aunt, and sister. He was a brilliant student and a prodigy in the burgeoning field of philology (the analysis of the grammar, syntax, and vocabulary of ancient languages), receiving the position of full professor at the philology department of the University of Basel, Switzerland, at the unprecedented age of twenty-four. His courses, however, were in subjects too arcane to attract many students and life-long health problems increased during his tenure at Basel to the point of forcing him to step down permanently in 1879. His first book, The Birth of Tragedy Out of the Spirit of Music, published in 1872, propounded a groundbreaking reinterpretation of pre-Socratic, ancient Greek culture which ultimately supplanted the romanticized ideal of “ancient Greece” that had held sway in European intellectual circles since the Renaissance. Nietzsche’s most conventionally academic book, The Birth of Tragedy was nonetheless controversial and earned its author an enduring reputation as a gifted but unduly contentious writer and thinker. His subsequent publications (which include Untimely Meditations; Human, All Too Human; The Dawn; The Gay Science; Thus Spoke Zarathustra; Beyond Good and Evil; and The Genealogy of Morals) would do little in Germany during his productive lifetime but cement this reputation. Nietzsche suffered a complete mental breakdown in late 1888 that reduced him to a near vegetative state for his remaining eleven years of life. However, in the period immediately preceding this breakdown he was at his most prolific, producing numerous major works between 1886 and 1889, four of which were penned in 1888 alone. By the time he died in 1900, his works were already becoming internationally recognized as masterpieces of philosophy and literature, prompting his custodian-sister, Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche, to publish a complete edition of his writings in 1901 that contained a first, short version of The Will to Power, hastily assembled from Nietzsche’s notebooks at his sister’s behest and in accordance with an outline for the proposed work that Nietzsche had discarded. The facts that Nietzsche’s sister was married to a well-known anti-Semite and was reported to have told Hitler he was the embodiment of her brother’s ideal are largely responsible for the unwarranted historical association of Nietzsche’s thought with Nazism that has greatly prejudiced the reception of his philosophy until this day. This is especially unfortunate since the works Nietzsche completed with his own hand have long been very widely available and offer a sufficiently comprehensive account of his thought to serve as a corrective to any distortions for which either The Will to Power or any of Nietzsche’s sister’s actions may have been responsible.

 

Nietzsche’s writings have had an enormous impact on European culture, decisively influencing Sigmund Freud, Max Weber, Thomas Mann, Albert Camus, the Symbolists and Surrealists, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Martin Heidegger, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Michel Foucault, just to name a few. British and American cultures have proven less openly welcoming to Nietzsche’s influence, but through European scholars’ immigration to both countries following the rise of Nazism as well as through English-language writers and poets such as Joseph Conrad and T. S. Elliot, his impact on the English-speaking world has also been deep and wide, if somewhat subterranean. One need merely look at the number of library shelves groaning under the weight of Nietzsche commentaries to gauge his enduring appeal.

 

The five books included in this compendium, though each quite different from the others and totally unique, are all cut from the same cloth in terms of philosophical content. Nietzsche’s views on all decisive points had become settled before he began writing Zarathustra (first part published in 1883), and thus each one of his succeeding books functions as a different window onto the same essential set of insights. Beyond Good and Evil (1886) is intended as a prosaic presentation of the main themes treated more symbolically and poetically in Zarathustra: namely, how a hypocritically self-righteous interpretation of everything in the world has insinuated itself into all aspects of modern intellectual life and what getting “beyond” this interpretation entails and requires. On The Genealogy of Morals (1887) describes in three polemical essays how the denial of the goodness of our everyday world and everything that belongs to it came to be the dominant standpoint and at what expense. In The Twilight of the Idols (written in 1888 and, like the following two books, completed by Nietzsche but published after his mental demise), Nietzsche’s tone becomes more strident, as would increasingly be the case in his last works. This brief book finds Nietzsche slinging “arrows” seemingly haphazardly in many directions, yet the work as a whole attains a remarkable continuity and unity. Almost all the major themes of Nietzsche’s late works, such as “the will to power,” “the eternal return of the same,” and “the revaluation of all values,” are touched upon here and often very precisely, succinctly, and seemingly effortlessly elucidated. Of Twilight Nietzsche once commented, “This work is my philosophy in a nutshell....”1 The Antichrist (written in 1888) is the first and only completed volume of what Nietzsche projected to be a four-part work titled The Revaluation of All Values, the successor to his abandoned Will to Power project. In it, Nietzsche sets his sights on Christianity—which he carefully distinguishes from what he understands the historical Jesus to have represented and taught—and he attacks it with perhaps the most persuasive anti-Christian arguments that have ever been written. It is no book for faint-hearted believers. Finally, Ecce Homo (written in 1888) is Nietzsche’s self-styled autobiography. It illuminates Nietzsche’s concept of the person who affirms the absolute goodness of everyday existence by presenting Nietzsche himself as an example of this type, and it also contains book-by-book accounts of his works that offer important insights into what Nietzsche regarded as their significance. Taken together and read straight through, these books offer the reader a definitive account of Nietzsche’s perspective as he intended it to be presented and a sweeping attack upon everything the modern Western world holds to be good about itself.

 

Turning to a closer engagement with the substance of Nietzsche’s texts, it is important to note that Nietzsche’s use of bombastic sounding catch-phrases for some of his most central ideas has been at least partly responsible for his thought being so easily misunderstood and wrongly appropriated. For this reason a clarification of some of the most important of these phrases and their place in Nietzsche’s overarching philosophy should serve as a more useful introduction to the books contained in this volume than a more extensive sketch of the contents of each one. It could be fairly said that the most frequently abused of all Nietzsche’s shorthand slogans for his most important insights is “the will to power.” In the posthumously assembled collection of excerpts from Nietzsche’s late notebooks titled The Will to Power, the term “will to power” is used in a more technical and philosophically systematic way than it is in the five works completed by Nietzsche and contained here. In fact, the philosophy contained in the book The Will to Power and the notebooks from which its content is drawn is much closer to a full-blown philosophical system than anything one finds in the works Nietzsche intended for publication. The meaning of the slogan “will to power” in the works contained in this volume is deceptively simple: it stands for the human condition as it is now, always has been, and always will be. What makes this idea deceptively simple is that by positing the human condition as essentially unchanging, Nietzsche has in one stroke challenged the general assumption that mankind makes some sort of progress through the course of history. In this context, two of Nietzsche’s other most important insights and their respective slogans, “the eternal return of the same” and “the revaluation of all values,” come into the picture as corollaries and elaborations of the idea of “will to power.” For if there is no progress in human history, then we do not confront something new in the human condition in different historical eras, but rather we continually encounter different incarnations of the same basic reality and the same basic human dynamic—i.e., an eternal return of the same. Moreover, insofar as the common objective of Christianity and modern science has been to affect man and the world in such a way that a more perfect future condition (either here or in the hereafter) could be secured, and as a result the dominant mode of evaluating everything has been in terms of whether it helped or hindered the realization of that more perfect condition, Nietzsche’s challenging the reality of any such ideal forces upon us both a need to consider different possible criteria for evaluating everything and an obligation to consider the consequences of having measured everything in terms of a nonexistent ideal for more than two millennia. Together these comprise the task of a revaluation of all values. Finally, since the reigning interpretation has been one that injected a moral hue into all of its evaluations, Nietzsche’s rejection of the universal validity of this mode of evaluation makes him a challenger of the notion that traditional concepts of “good” and “evil” are legitimate measures of the value of things—in other words, he becomes, in his own acerbic terms, “an immoralist.” Moreover, anyone who frees himself from the need to judge everything from a moralistic perspective, conformity to which has up to now been universally pushed upon the individual by society through all imaginable overt and covert means, places him or herself in the same condition as Nietzsche’s “free-spirits” —i.e., those who are able to fashion values for themselves and to evaluate each aspect of their experience by the criterion of whether or not it promotes their self-realization and the fulfillment of their unique human potential.

 

One way of further illuminating the radical new perspective imminent in the web of interwoven Nietzschean themes and slogans just described is by relating it to the “prophetic tradition” of social criticism that derives its name from the Old Testament prophets and is sometimes also said to include Jesus Christ. The ancient Hebrew prophets decried the situation of mankind during their era, pointing out the persistent cruelty of man against man, the use of physical and psychological force to maintain adherence to social orders that were extremely hierarchical in all respects and radically inequitable. They characterized relations between people as cruel struggles between opposing forces trying to gain advantage over and dominate one another. To this reality they opposed an idealized one in which human relationships were to be ruled by compassion and love, and where social, political, and economic injustices were to be minimized or eliminated. We hear many voices calling for movement toward such a society in our time and almost all of us have some sympathy with them. But Nietzsche in effect takes a big black marker and puts an “X” over the ideal world that is set against our own everyday one by the prophets and their present-day progeny. It is an illusion. It will not come to pass in this reality or the next. It is a lie that is used by ...

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