le 28 décembre 2005
This anthology of Nietzsche's writing is a marvelous work - Kaufmann's translations make the philosopher's unique style accessible and interesting to the English reader; it doesn't resort to false formality or dry academic prose as is often the case in translation of such material, but rather sets things in lively and dynamic tones, much as Nietzsche's own writing and tendency toward the dramatic was noted by his contemporaries.
Nietzsche's father was a Lutheran minister, but he died five years after Nietzsche's birth in 1844. Nietzsche was raised by his mother, grandmother and aunts; later in his life, his sister would become executor of his estate (after Nietzsche had become incapable of managing his own affairs) and reshape his philosophy and writings in her own idea - this becomes a running motif in later anthologies of Nietzsche; editors can quote and clip to fit their own agendas. In some ways, that is true of Kaufmann's text here, but in much less inappropriate ways than others, particularly Nietzsche's first editor, his sister.
Nietzsche was a star pupil from his earliest days at university in Bonn and Leipzig. His formal study was in classical philology, but his attentions turned in various directions quickly during his writing and professional life - he had an intense interest in drama and the arts, with Wagner's music and Greek drama in principal interest. His first book was devoted to these topics - 'The Birth of Tragedy'. It was not highly regarded at the time, but has since become much more appreciated as an anticipation of later developments in philosophy and aesthetics.
Nietzsche's life after this period was a very choppy one - he left the university, claiming illness, and while this developed later to be a true situation, at the time is was probably academic politics and difficulties fitting in with the establishment he was trying to break. He had a formal falling-out with Wagner, even writing later a piece entitled ' Nietzsche contra Wagner', finished just a few week prior to his going insane.
Kaufmann states in the introduction that Nietzsche's real career took off after his active life was over; under his sister's direction, many of the writings Nietzsche had managed to do and not get published, or which were published but forgotten, really took off in major directions. While his major works of Zarathustra, Ecce Homo, Will to Power and Genealogy of Morals were in various editions of disrepair (indeed, the Will to Power was never more complete than a series of notes), Nietzsche had a knack for language that made him very quotable, and his influence continued to grow well into the first half of the twentieth century, influencing art, philosophy, history, and politics in dramatic ways, if not always the ways in which Nietzsche envisioned.
For example, Nietzsche was not particularly impressed with the 'typical' German anti-semitism, which later erupted into the Nazi movement. He considered it rather bourgeois, and while he undoubted had his own issues with Jews (Nietzsche had issues with almost everyone, particularly any group, Christians included, who had a religious connection), the Nazi use of Nietzsche's work owes more to Nietzsche's sister's influence than anyone else.
Kaufmann states that 'Genealogy of Morals' is perhaps the closest in form to English-speaking philosophical discourse. This is a discussion that involves philosophy, psychology and linguistic theory, looking at morality in three different essays. The first essay explores the idea of good and evil as good and bad; Nietzsche develops the idea of master and slave morality - the slave resists the ideas of the master, and thus values things that are less likely to gain power - Nietzsche sees Christianity as an example of slave morality.
The second essay looks at the issues of conscience and guilt, and how these spawned the invention of gods. The third essay concludes the work with a look at ascetic ideas, how these relate to aesthetic ideas, and where in Nietzsche's opinion the great philosophers of the past have gone wrong.
Perhaps this later explains the second work in this collection, Ecce Homo. In this book (first published posthumously), Nietzsche analyses his own work piece by piece, as well as gives an overall assessment of his life. Nietzsche's insights into his own writings in hindsight is fascinating to behold. For example, his idea of his work in the first piece of this collection, the Genealogy, is as follows:
'Regarding expression, intention, and the art of suprise, the three inquiries which constitute this Genealogy are perhaps uncannier than anything else written so far. Dionysus is, as is known, also the god of darkness.'
Nietzsce is not easy reading, and this work is not the best for casual reading or the first-time reader of Nietzsche. However, for those who have already made some headway into understanding him, this is a good collection, for Kaufmann is one of the better translators and commentators. Kaufmann's notes here are especially valuable.