Friedrich Nietzsche was perhaps the most influential writer at the end of the 19th century. He wrote in an innovative, fragmentary style for a small group of friends and like-minded “free spirits” who were not beholden to any ideology or afraid of looking into the abyss of the unknown and uncontrollable. He described himself as dynamite rather than as merely human and is best known for his re-evaluation of all values. The prophet Zarathustra’s self-description in Also sprach Zarathustra (1883–85; Thus Spoke Zarathustra) applies to the author himself: “I move about among mankind as among the fragments of the future, of that future which I envision. That is the object of my writing and striving: I write as poetry and bring together into a whole that which is fragment and enigma and horrible accident.” Some readers even make him responsible for the “death of God,” although he was only observing the general movement in the 19th century from traditional beliefs (myth) to a trust in science, commerce, and industry. His essayistic stance is dictated by resistance to those growing tendencies and by his desire for renewed vigor. The latter explains why his writing is largely subtitled a philosophy of/for the future.
Nietzsche’s writing can be divided roughly into three phases. The first corresponds to his development as a professor of classical philology in Basle. It consists of the influential essay Die Geburt der Tragodie (1872; The Birth of Tragedy) and the celebrated essay collection Unzeitgemässe Betrachtungen (1873–76; Untimely Meditations). The latter includes “David Strauss, der Bekenner und Schriftsteller” (1873; “David Strauss, the Confessor and the Writer”), “Vom Nutzen und Nachteil der Historie für das Leben” (1874; “On the Advantage and Disadvantage of History for Life”), “Schopenhauer als Erzieher” (1874; “Schopenhauer as Educator”), and “Richard Wagner in Bayreuth” (1876). His cultural criticism is directed against “theoretical man,” that is, against the scientific positivism and industrialization of the 19th century, in the manner of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Arthur Schopenhauer, whom he greatly admired.
Optimism, democracy, and logic are for Nietzsche signs of declining vitality, while logical inconsistency is valued positively. With its nonscientific images and constructions, art appears as an instrument of resistance in his struggle against the mythdestroying rationalism of Socrates.
The second phase includes the collections Menschliches, Allzumenschliches (1878–80; Human, All Too Human), Morgenröthe (1881; Daybreak), and Die fröhliche Wissenschaft (1882.; The Gay Science) and represents the power of negation in preparing the ground for new possibilities. Nietzsche attempts here a new conception of science and a re-evaluation of the relationship between art and knowledge. Chemistry, the historicity of natural events which Nietzsche once considered as a disciplinary field, replaces the timeless world myth. The breaking down into elements displaces the sense of an organic whole. Nietzsche emerges here as the radical skeptic, psychologist, and analyst.
The third phase begins already with the end of The Gay Science with its scorn of numbers and calculation, continuing through Zarathustra, Jenseits von Gut und Böse (1886; Beyond Good and Evil), “Der Fall Wagner” (1888; “The Case of Wagner”), Gotzen-Dämmerung (1889; Twilight of the Idols), and Ecce homo (wr. 1888, pub. 1908), to the late essays Der Antichrist (1895; The Antichrist) and Nietzsche contra Wagner (1889). (Several volumes of posthumously published fragments, among them the socalled Der Wille zur Macht [1901; The Will to Power], were penned throughout his life and therefore do not necessarily belong to the late phase.) Everywhere is heard the call for a transvaluation of all values, Nietzsche’s great metaphysical essay. In this phase art is rehabilitated as the necessary counterweight to the devitalizing influence of knowledge: “Art is the great enabler of life, the great temptress to life, the great stimulant of life” (The Gay Science). In the third phase the love of lies and masks dominates because Nietzsche has recognized that life is impossible without falsification.
For Nietzsche art and intellectual inquiry thus went hand in hand. Despite his deep love of music, his own preferred art form was aphoristic and essayistic in nature. In the essay and late preface to his Birth of Tragedy, “Versuch einer Selbstkritik” (1886; “Essay in Self-Criticism”), he laments the fact that he was not bold enough in 1871 to adopt a new tone of discourse, one sparked by the language of poetry and free of the bonds of Kantian and Schopenhauerean categories. The regret is due to the fact that The Birth of Tragedy was his first attempt at seeing science through the eyes of the artist and art from the perspective of life itself. His entire opus is an attempt to read life, art, and science as if they were all texts open to interpretation. That attitude led to the “untimely meditations” dispersed throughout his opus: “Untimely,” as he explains in the essay “On the Advantage and Disadvantage of History,” because he argued that his age was marked by loss, frailty, and deficiency rather than strength and vigor.
Nietzsche’s writing is exemplary for the intimate, albeit uneasy nexus of philosophy and literature. A fundamental quality of his writing and thinking is the ever-present perspectivism, a point emphatically made in the essayistic preface to Beyond Good and Evil where he calls perspectivism “the fundamental condition of all life.” Since polyperspectivism lies at the center both of the quest for truth and of literariness, it is not surprising that Nietzsche is claimed as a model by continental philosophers and literary critics alike. Some even claim that literature holds the most promise for shedding light on some of the toughest epistemic problems.
Life for Nietzsche was literature, since the asceticism of his writings is both the motivation for and the result of perspectivism (Alexander Nehamas, 1985). The world is comprehended as if it were a text; in fact, Nietzsche viewed his own life as a text in the making. The only abstraction possible is that of perspectivism as the ruling principle of existence with its partial and fragmented views of things. All is only a series of shifting masks, of lies about the world and the self. The meaning of those partial views is constructed by the author and his reader in dynamic interplay, for the reader is not given a detailed road map of the author’s constructed text, just the principle of perspectivism.
Nietzsche eschewed straight-line approaches and required the reader’s creative participation.
To do justice to Nietzsche as essayist, then, one must take his mode of writing fully into account. Behind that mode of writing is a philosophical attitude toward the world and the self. Essentially, it asks what can be said about the world, the self, and the future.
Since Nietzsche considered human beings to be so many fragments of an unrealized future, his task as a writer and philosopher was to advance the organic unfolding of those fragmentary natures into full constructs. Philosophy always contains an element of autobiography, as do works of art. Ecce homo is an especially apt example of this alignment. Key is Nietzsche’s self-conscious experimentation with genre mixing, of which the chief characteristics are fragmentation and hyperbole. The latter is variously guised as exaggeration, extravagance, errancy, and quest. Its underlying concern seems to be whether writing motivates thought or thought motivates writing. The hyperbole so favored by Nietzsche is a response to Socrates’ preferred method of understatement (litotes). In any event, the reader is constrained to enact meaning and to “do” philosophy.
The Romantic roots of this manner of thinking and writing are clear (cf. Friedrich Schlegel). All this questioning movement is related to the project of essayism. No wonder, then, that Nietzsche is widely acclaimed as a classical essayist. While his preferred genre is the aphorism, many of those so-called aphorisms are, in fact, essays.
In the long essay The Birth of Tragedy, Nietzsche early on formulates his essential stance and attitude toward truth, life, art, and ultimately writerliness. Fundamental is the tension between the natural Apollonian forces of harmony and ordering on the one hand
and the Dionysian powers of intoxication and disruption on the other. Like Heinrich von Kleist before him, Nietzsche laments the loss of natural movement through the rise of self-consciousness. The dance metaphorically symbolizes the coordination of these dialectical forces and insures humankind’s participation in a higher commonality with nature (cf. Human, All Too Human). In the essay “Über Wahrheit und Lüge im aussermoralischen Sinne” (1873; “On Truth and Lies in an Extra-Moral Sense”) Nietzsche explicitly contends that humankind can live in a semblance of peace, security, and consistency only by losing its self-conscious sense of subjectivity as an “artistically creative subject.” There is no causal relationship between subject and object, only an aesthetic one; that is, one of nuance and approximation, of “rough translation into a totally foreign tongue”—in other words, that of the dance. Thus one can never achieve the “right” perspective, for the right perspective is the one which is never present and ever-fleeting. Obviously this balancing act of shifting perspectives is the essence of life, art, and the act of writing. The dancing motif reflects the interpenetration of poetic creation and reflective moment to the point where they become indistinguishable.
Nietzsche’s opus is rich with essayistic assessments of this relationship between science and poetry. A few examples will have to suffice. The Gay Science, Zarathustra, Beyond Good and Evil, Zur Genealogie der Moral (1887; A Genealogy of Morals), and Twilight of the Idols contain numerous essays in the garb of aphorisms. In The Gay Science we find, for instance, no. 357: “Zum alten Problem: ‘was ist deutsch?’” (“On the Old Problem: What Is German?”); no. 366: “Angesichts eines gelehrten Buches” (“Encounter with a Scholarly Book”); no. 377: “Wir Heimatlosen” (“We Homeless People”); no. 381: “Zur Frage der Verständlichkeit” (“On
Incomprehensibility”). In Zarathustra the chapters “Von der Erlösung” (“On Redemption”), “Vom Vorübergehen” (“On Passing By”), and “Vom Geist der Schwere” (“On the Spirit of Heaviness”) are excellent examples of rhapsodic essays.
Especially telling is Zarathustra’s remark in “On the Spirit of Heaviness”: “Ein Versuchen und Fragen war all mein Gehen.” The German is full of ironic playfulness and ambiguity, for “Versuchen” is an “attempting” or “essaying”; “Fragen” is the skeptical attitude of questioning toward all encounters on one’s travels through life; and the classic metaphor of the private, leisurely walk in essayistic writing is echoed in “mein Gehen.”
Thus, the translation might read: “Attempting and questioning was my whole progression.”
This attitude is further mirrored in Beyond Good and Evil, in particular aphorisms nos. 44, 188, 203, 208, 224, and 230 with their numerous, tentative solutions, and invitation to think things through. They all have more in common with the style and tone of the essay than with the laconic aphorism. The themes, style, and length of the pieces cited are classically essayistic. The same holds true for the involvement of the reader in seemingly personal meditations upon weighty as well as seemingly trivial subjects.
Finally, in aphorism no. 381 of The Gay Science Nietzsche explains his “aphoristic” style once more as the most appropriate for the expression of his ideas. He believes namely that his writings are designed to stimulate and uplift the reader. His approach to profound problems, he states, is the way one approaches a cold bath: jump in quickly and get out quickly. The genuine attitude of the philosopher, Nietzsche adds, is that of a dancer: “The dance, namely, is his ideal, also his art, finally also his devoutness, his divine service.” Here he succinctly summarizes not only his own style of writing but also the essence of the essayistic attitude. Nietzsche viewed the relationship between scientific inquiry and art, philosophy, and life, in the manner of a true essayist.
See also Philosophical Essay
Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche. Born 15 October 1844 in Röcken. Studied at Pforta School, 1858–64; philosophy and theology at the University of Bonn, 1864–65; University of Leipzig, 1865–67, Ph.D., 1869. Became friends with Richard Wagner, 1868. Chair of classical philology, University of Basle, 1869–79: retired because of ill health. Volunteer in the army medical service, 1867–68. Gave up Prussian citizenship, 1869, and remained stateless for the rest of his life. Traveled often to Sils Maria, Nice, and Italy, 1879–89.
Suffered from mental illness for the last 11 years of his life. Died in Weimar, 25 August 1900.
Essays and Related Prose
Die Geburt der Tragödie aus dem Geiste der Musik, 1872; as Die Geburt der Tragödie;
oder, Griechentum und Pessimismus, 1886; as The Birth of Tragedy, translated by William A.Haussmann, 1909, Francis Golffing, 1956, Walter Kaufmann, 1967, and Shaun Whiteside, 1993
Die Philosophie im tragischen Zeitalter der Griechen, 1873; as Philosophy in the Tragic Age of the Greeks, translated by Marianne Cowan, 1962 Unzeitgemässe Betrachtungen, 4 vols., 1873–76; as Unmodern Observations: Thoughts Out of Season, translated by Anthony M. Ludovici, 1909; as Untimely Meditations, translated by R.J. Hollingdale, 1983; as Unfashionable Observations, translated by Richard T.Gray, 1995
David Strauss, der Bekenner und der Schriftsteller, 1873
Vom Nutzen und Nachteil der Historie für das Leben, 1874; as The Use and Abuse of History, translated by Adrian Collins, 1949; as Of the Advantage and Disadvantage of History for Life, translated by Peter Preuss, 1980
Schopenhauer als Erzieher, 1874; as Schopenhauer as Educator, translated by James W.Hillesheim and Malcolm B.Simpson, 1965
Richard Wagner in Bayreuth, 1876
Menschliches, Allzumenschliches: Ein Buch für freie Geister, 3 vols., 1878–80; complete edition, 1886; as Human, All Too Human: A Book for Free Spirits, translated by Alexander Harvey, 1908, Helen Zimmern and Paul V.Cohn, 2. vols., 1909–11, Marion Faber and Stephen Lehmann, 1984, and R.J. Hollingdale, 1986
Morgenrothe, Gedanken tiber die moralischen Vorurteile, 1881; enlarged edition, 1887;
as The Dawn of Day, translated by Johanna Volz, 1903, and J.M.Kennedy, 1974; as Daybreak: Thoughts on the Prejudices of Morality, translated by R.J. Hollingdale, 1982
Die frohliche Wissenschaft, 1882; enlarged edition, 1887; as The Joyful Wisdom, translated by Thomas Common, 1910; as The Gay Science, translated by Walter Kaufmann, 1974
Also sprach Zarathustra: Ein Buch für Alle und Keinen, 4 vols., 1883–85; revised edition, 1892; as Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A Book for All and None, translated by Alexander Tille, 1896, Thomas Common, 1898, Marianne Cowan, 1957, R.J.
Hollingdale, 1961, and William Kaufmann, 1966
Jenseits von Gut und Böse: Vorspiel einer Philosophie der Zukunft, 1886; as Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to the Philosophy of the Future, translated by Helen Zimmern, 1909, Marianne Cowan, 1955, William Kaufmann, 1966, and R.J.Hollingdale, 1973
Zur Genealogie der Moral: Eine Streitschrift, 1887; as A Genealogy of Morals, translated by William A.Haussmann, 1897, Horace B. Samuel, 1910, and Francis Golffing, 1956;
as On the Genealogy of Morals, translated by William Kaufmann and R.J. Hollingdale, 1967, and Carole Diethe, 1994
Götzen-Dämmerung; oder, Wie man mit dem Hammer philosophirt, 1889; as Twilight of the Idols, translated by Thomas Common, 1896, Anthony M.Ludovici, 1911, and R.J.Hollingdale, 1968
Der Antichrist: Fluch auf das Christenthum, 1895; as The Antichrist, translated by Thomas Common, 1896, H.L. Mencken, 1920 (reprinted 1988), P.R.Stephenson, 1928,
and R. J.Hollingdale, 1968
Nietzsche contra Wagner: Aktenstücke eines Psychologen, 1889; as Nietzsche contra Wagner, translated by Thomas Common, 1896
Der Wille zur Macht, edited by P.Gast and Elisabeth FörsterNietzsche, 1901; as The Will to Power, translated by Anthony M.Ludovici, 2 vols., 1909–10, and R.J.Hollingdale and Walter Kaufmann, 1968
Ecce homo: Wie man wird—was man ist, edited by Raoui Richter, 1908; as Ecce Homo: How One Becomes What One Is, translated by Anthony M.Ludovici, 1911, and R.J.Hollingdale, 1979
The Portable Nietzsche, edited by Walter Kaufmann, 1954
Basic Writings, edited by Walter Kaufmann, 1968
A Nietzsche Reader, edited by R.J.Hollingdale, 1977
Nietzsche Selections, edited by Richard Schacht, 1993
Hammer of the Gods: Selected Writings, edited and translated by Stephen Metcalf, 1996
Other writings: poetry, notebooks, and correspondence.
Collected works editions: Werke: Grossoktavausgabe, edited by the Nietzsche
Archive, 15 vols., 1894–1904; The Complete Works, edited by Oscar Levy, various translators (as listed after individual works above), 18 vols., 1909–11; Sämtliche Werke: Kritische Studienausgabe, edited by Giorgio Colli and Mazzino Montinari, 15 vols.,
1967–86; Complete Works (Stanford Edition), edited by Ernst Behler, 1994– (in progress).
Reichert, Herbert W., and Karl Schlechta, International Nietzsche Bibliography, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, revised edition, 1968 (original edition), 1960
Allison, David B., editor, The New Nietzsche: Contemporary Styles of Interpretation, New York: Dell, 1977
Del Caro, Adrian, Nietzsche contra Nietzsche: Creativity and the Anti-Romantic, Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1989
De Man, Paul, “Rhetoric of Tropes (Nietzsche),” in his Allegories of Reading: Figural Language in Rousseau, Nietzsche, Rilke and Proust, New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 1979: 103–18
Derrida, Jacques, Spurs: Nietzsche’s Styles, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979 (original French edition), 1978
Fleischer, Margot, Der “Sinn der Erde” und die Entzauberung des Übermenschen: Eine Auseinandersetzung mit Nietzsche, Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1993
Heller, Erich, The Importance of Nietzsche: Ten Essays, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988
Holub, Robert, Friedrich Nietzsche, New York: Twayne, and London: Prentice Hall International, 1995
Kofman, Sarah, Nietzsche and Metaphor, Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, and London: Athlone Press, 1993 (original French edition), 1972
Magnus, Bernd, Stanley Stewart, and Jean-Pierre Mileur, Nietzsche’s Case: Philosophy as/and Literature, New York and London: Routledge, 1993
Nehamas, Alexander, Nietzsche: Life as Literature, Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1985
Pütz, Peter, “Nietzsche: Art and Intellectual Inquiry,” in Nietzsche: Imagery and Thought: A Collection of Essays, edited by Malcolm Pasley, Berkeley: University of California Press, and London: Methuen, 1978: 1–32,
Solomon, Robert C, editor, Nietzsche: A Collection of Critical Essays, Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 1980
Staten, Henry, Nietzsche’s Voice, Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1990
Stern, J.P., “Nietzsche and the Idea of Metaphor,” in Nietzsche: Imagery and Thought: A Collection of Essays, edited by Malcolm Pasley, Berkeley: University of California Press, and London: Methuen, 1978:65–81
Williams, W.D., “Nietzsche’s Masks,” in Nietzsche: Imagery and Thought: A Collection of Essays, edited by Malcolm Pasley, Berkeley: University of California Press, and London: Methuen, 1978:82–103
►→ back to ►→ Encyclopedia of THE ESSAY
Please contact the author for suggestions or further informations: email@example.com;
MORE INFORMATION ON MY OTHER SITES:
architecture, literature, essays, philosophy, biographies