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Reviews407 Within Nietzsche's Labyrinth, by Alan White; xiv & 188 pp. New York: Routledge, 1990, $39.95 cloth, $13.95 paper. "Crookbacked and humped" was the posture Nietzsche thought the scholar developed as a result of the "extremely difficult problem" of his education. Witless and dry might well be the correlative in personality—or writerly persona —of this posture, and Alan White has proved that not all of Nietzsche's predictions need come true. For ifWhite is not always exacdy funny, he at least keeps his tone light, willing to allude to such contemporary cultural icons as Michael Jordan, Maurice Sendak, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, and the somewhat aged (and never very funny) bumper-sticker slogan, "Life's a beach—let's party." ButifWhite's humor, ifthat's theword, is a divertingexception to the scholarly norm, it is also at the core of this volume's chief flaw, its failure to ask questions of consistent interest to his mature readers. His observation, for instance, that "Nietzsche's war of spirits ... is a war not of guns and muscles—a war not for Schwarzeneggers and Stallones—but a war, rather, of words" (p. 6), is perhaps not one that really needs to be made, nor does it advance the book's thesis. Moreover, the thesis itself, that Nietzsche's ultimate message is life-affirming, a yes-saying, despite an elaborate and evolving nihilism, may be another fatality of the author's breezy style and laid-back stance. Thus in his final chapter, "Life without Kitsch," White asks, disarmingly but not as disarmingly as he would wish, if he has not boiled down Nietzsche's teachings to "junk food" by making him a proponent of reasonable individualism and human tolerance. The concluding force ofthis volume is indeed to squeeze Nietzsche through an aperture so narrow that the final outcome is a rather bland paste. This is all the odder since the preceding eight chapters range, sometimes nimbly, sometimes without much apparent purpose, over virtually all the central notions in Nietzsche's body of thought: from radical nihilism, to the pessimisticjoy of the Dionysian perspective, a perspectivism skating between the twin abysses of positivism and relativism, to a Zarathustra more susceptible to literary analysis than is commonly assumed, and on to the issue of nobility, one crucial to Nietzsche, though curiously conceived of by White. As literary and philosophical studies continue to cross-fertilize, our abilities to read philosophical texts literarily, and literary texts philosophically, will continue to improve, though laborers in either specialty will probably also continue to feel that the sophistication of the interloper is not always adequate. As someone trained in literary analysis, this reader, for instance, found White's pages devoted to Zarathustra's "soul"—itself a questionable hypothesis—closer to commentary than to criticism, just as he found White's assertion that Thus Spoke Zarathustra is Nietzsche's "main text" to be debatable. As a work of literature , Zarathustra is a failure, whatever its merits as a work of speculative 408Philosophy and Literature metaphysics or metapsychology. Relatedly, the claim made by White, and others, that Nietzsche is the extravagandy gifted stylist he believed himself to be, is, to a more constant reader ofliterature, difficult to maintain. Ultimately, ofcourse, it is impossible to prove that Nietzsche is a better or worse stylist than, say, Hume or Schopenhauer, though technical discussions ofstyle are often quite revealing. As White wishes to place Nietzsche in a literary context, particularly one made up by such figures as Calvino, Kundera, and Proust (this last a predictable but not especially illuminating contrast), issues such as style—and irony and characterization and tone—become significant, as these figure so centrally in stories and novels, poems and plays. If the questions White puts to Nietzsche in this book seem, as indicated, at times almost child-like, that is because, as asserted in the final pages, he is writing for his own children. There is subsequently a moving but wrong-headed attempt to transform this most unassimilable inverter of moral evaluations into a proponent of family, democracy, and liberal humanism. One understands White's need, but a more useful volume exposing Nietzsche in all his genuine idiosyncrasy and difficult...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 407-408
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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