A Companion to Friedrich Nietzsche: Life and Works ed. by Paul Bishop (review)
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A Companion to Friedrich Nietzsche: Life and Works.
Edited by Paul Bishop. Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2012. xii + 449 pages. $90.00.

A Companion to Friedrich Nietzsche: Life and Works is a collection of essays by various scholars, each on an individual work or group of works by Nietzsche, tracing the full arc of Nietzsche’s work in its historical sequence. The essays are interspersed with shorter texts by the editor, Paul Bishop, which link the main essays by supplying information about the course of Nietzsche’s life and work at the time he was writing the work to be discussed next. In this manner, the volume traces Nietzsche’s development over the entire span of his writing life. Nevertheless it would be a mistake to try to read this book through from start to finish. It would not be ‘a good read,’ nor is it intended to be. As a “companion” volume, it is designed rather to be consulted in conjunction with the study of particular works written by Nietzsche.

The essays and linking texts are uniformly scholarly and informative. A rather large part of the main text of each essay is taken up by frequent quotations from Nietzsche, which are always presented both in English translation and the original German. While having both the translation and the original right there in the main text is very useful to the serious scholar, having so much of the book taken up by these quotations does break up the flow of the essays and detracts from their readability.

Each essay tries to cover the entire work it discusses, to supply a comprehensive and accurate report of its content and biographical context. Given the aphoristic and thematically somewhat scattershot style of many of Nietzsche’s works, this often requires the contributors to locate what are the sporadically appearing major motifs of a Nietzschean work, and to present them with more thematic continuity than Nietzsche did. On the whole the essays perform this task reasonably well and are thoroughly researched and documented. But because this book sets out to be so determinedly informative and comprehensive, it necessarily sacrifices other virtues that one may seek in a book about Nietzsche. In order to give a well-ordered, concise, and yet comprehensive report on rather large, thematically diverse, and thematically discontinuous texts, depth and focus have had to be sacrificed. The essays tend to ignore or gloss over really problematic issues and disputes concerning the interpretation of Nietzsche’s philosophy, and they tend to avoid making any evaluations of the plausibility, consistency, or moral acceptability of his views. They tend not to confront [End Page 710] the obscurity or ambiguity of some of Nietzsche’s texts, which require deeply probing interpretation. Nor do they offer explanations of why Nietzsche sometimes defended views which seem at first sight to be implausible or morally repugnant. Such a scholarly but un-evaluative and unprobing approach tends to produce essays that are more informative than illuminating. These essays strike me as being like a series of splendid seminar Referate on steroids. For those who want just to be informed, who want ‘just the facts’ and lots of them, this book should be completely satisfying. But for those who are seeking a deeper understanding of the meaning of the more puzzling and problematic aspects of Nietzsche’s ideas and some help in judging their plausibility, it might be somewhat disappointing. For there is not much here in the way of direct and probing discussion of what is problematic in Nietzsche’s philosophy, either with regard to its interpretation or its validity. Nevertheless, the book presents much valuable, factual material that could eventually be used by those who want to confront the problematic aspects of Nietzsche’s thought and assess its value more directly.

Nietzsche was well aware of the provocative and problematic nature of his views. Indeed, he proudly and repeatedly called attention to it. He seems to have expected and even wanted his readers to find some of his ideas, at least initially, far from obviously true, even far-fetched, shocking, and offensive. He seems to have wanted his readers to be fully aware of...