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Nietzsche: Life as Literature, by Alexander Nehamas ; ? & 261 pp. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1985, $17.50. Discussed by Peter Fenves Alexander Nehamas's recent book never loses its way in the maze of interpretative avenues that plague studies of Nietzsche. He sets out a single problem to which all of Nietzsche's writings offer a programmatic solution. The scope of Nehamas's claim should not be underestimated : "Nietzsche's problem is that he wants to attack the tradition to which he belongs and also escape it" (p. 137). Once this dilemma is brought into the open — and it is the point of the book to do so — Nehamas explains how Nietzsche chose to solve it: "His unparalleled solution to this problem is to try consciously to fashion a literary character out of himself and a literary work out of his life," hence the subtitle, "Life as Literature." "Vet Nehamas never points to any statement in Nietzsche's writing that would substantiate this claim, nor does he ever specify precisely when Nietzsche discovered that there was such a problem or at what point he decided to offer his own solution. Nehamas never relates the circumstances that led up to this momentous decision; it seems as if Nietzsche were fated to encounter this problem and to offer his peculiar solution. Yet Nehamas still claims that Nietzsche made a conscious decision to fashion his life into literature , even though none of the standard indices of consciousness — meaningful sentences, in other words — are called upon to support this contention. Now one often finds in works that bear such titles as "The Lives of Saints" a moment marked off as a turning point; suddenly, the solution dawns upon the saint and the rest of his life is devoted to drawing out its consequences. Nehamas does not emphasize this moment but its presence permeates the book: it is the very substance of the claim that 163 164Philosophy and Literature Nietzsche conceived his life as literature. It is only because Nehamas fails to identify a specific time in which Nietzsche came to his solution that the book avoids the more obvious manifestations of hagiography. Nietzsche's life is quite literally the outcome of a conversion: "To be, then, a comedian of the ascetic ideal [to work out, in other words, Nietzsche's solution] is to give up the very idea of trying to determine in general terms the value of life and the world. It is to turn to oneself in order to make one's life valuable ..." (p. 136). The hagiographie aspect of this book—the conviction that however difficult, messy and ambiguous the life of the saint may be, a momentous decision underlies and underwrites every turn— comes out most clearly in the final chapter where Nehamas sketches a brief and quite moving portrait of Nietzsche's life: by turning his life into literature, by making himself into a literary character, his life becomes, Nehamas says, "deeply admirable " (p. 233). When is it appropriate to do hagiography? When the saint is no longer a prophet and yet his image seems to inspire, his words no longer carry conviction and yet his life still seems worthwhile, when his life is no longer to be imitated but justly admired. Nehamas, who is both adamant about dismissing the notion of Nietzsche as prophet and adept at doing so, still wants him to say something to us. In terms of Nietzsche scholarship, one could arrive at the formula: Nietzsche as saint follows upon Nietzsche as prophet or profligate. Nehamas's mode of presentation and his thesis that Nietzsche had a single problem and an overarching solution are intimately connected. Philosophical interpretations of Nietzsche have often been baffled by the profusion of positions he seems to take on the same issue and the equally variegated manner in which he presents them. Jaspers, for instance, responded to this situation by condemning Nietzsche to incoherence , Heidegger by developing an elaborate Seinsgeschichte while also insisting that the key to Nietzsche's thought is still buried in the Nachlass . The philosopher thus asks how to provide a set of theses that are not merely depreciations of previous philosophers but also positive proposals of Nietzsche's...


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pp. 163-170
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