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Reviews425 Unmodern Observations [the four published Unzeitgemässe Betrachtungen and the unpublished "Wir Philologen"], by Friedrich Nietzsche; translated and introduced by William Arrowsmith et al; xix & 402 pp. New Haven; Yale University Press, 1989, $40.00. The author of these "observations," the youngest ever professor at Basel, is discontented and overjoyed. German culture, victorious in the field against France, he regards as rotten, its universities as prisons, Bismarck as a pordy Fortinbras, and D. F. Strauss as a liberal Polonius—hence worthy of a stab in the front. Most classical philologists, fellow teachers and students seem to Professor Hamlet either promising lads hindered by their education, like Laertes, or deformed by it into petty careerists, like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. If young Dr. Nietzsche is right about how our "historical sense" renders all study weary, stale, and unprofitable, we should scrutinize the Ph.D. innovation at Johns Hopkins, called "octopusean" by our William James. Like Hamlet with his ancient Hyperion, Pyrrhus, and Aeneas, Dr. Nietzsche has his contrasting heroes: Montaigne, Rousseau, Goethe, whom he magnifies. Thus, in his Schopenhauer, you will meet no misanthropic, a-pathetic hermit from the world of the will well lost (or well thrown down the stairs, like his land lady), but a serene teacher; and in his fourth "observation," Prof. Hamlet says that from the score and sound room of his brain, he will banish all trivial fond tunes and listen only to Wagner, Wagner, Wagner. All here is highly colored, intense, incoherent. Important questions erupt without preparation; in the middle of the Wagner piece, Nietzsche names the three greatest sufferings for the individual: that men do not share all knowledge in common, that ultimate insight is uncertain, that abilities are parceled out unequally. Others arise in the spaces between the pieces and also disappear without a sound into them; the essay on history makes us ask whether the one on Strauss is an instance of critical history, whether the ones on Schopenhauer and Wagner are examples of monumental history, and whether the author's laudation of antiquarian history is a momentary attempt to say something good about classical philology, his own métier, in the face of the devastating critique he has simultaneously launched against it as "the sense of history." Perhaps later "observations" will answer these questions. More likely he will abandon all plans for more. Surely, the instability at the center of all of them will become clear to him. Then he will either emulate the joyous fury he attributes to his heroes, or if he discovers they are no heroes, he may embrace the cynicism he now despises in others. Probably he will do both, and more—esteem the science he once despised, and hate the Wagner he once loved. Although this Hamlet is passionate in his dislikes and likes, still he does not know what he really thinks about the 426Philosophy and Literature questions that torment his always soliloquizing soul. He does not know what to be or not to be. A tranquil philosopher like Schopenhauer, or a passionate artist like Wagner? In the most profound of these "observations," Nietzsche touches on the relation of truth and life, but cannot tell us what kind of history could unite them. Can one be true to life and to truth? Perhaps only art, epic art, will unite them. This man does not know, and may spend all his life trying to find out. If so, he will have become a philosopher. And if he also finds out, he may have become a poet. Already he has left philology behind, and the incompleteness of the unpublished "We Classicists," which his American friend, Prof. William Arrowsmith, has included, shows that Nietzsche will not return. Had he not gone to Basel with tenure, he would not have received it. Even when colleagues agree with him, they will fear his spirit and, like Herr Prof. Dr. Burckhardt, watch, from the port they have reached, this ship in a storm. Will Nietzsche liberate himself from the modernity that vexes him? Will such liberation send him toward antiquity? Or towards some supermodernity? Will he recur to a radical naturalism, of nobility, nature, and reason, or arrive at a radical historicism...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 425-426
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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