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Nietzsche's Task: An Interpretation of Beyond Good and Evil (review)

From: The Journal of Nietzsche Studies
Issue 29, Spring 2005
pp. 74-76 | 10.1353/nie.2005.0007

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The Journal of Nietzsche Studies 29 (2005) 74-76

Lawrence Lampert. Nietzsche's Task: An Interpretation of Beyond Good and Evil. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2001.

Two main kinds of books exist about Nietzsche: one offers a comparative philosophical perspective, while the other presents a direct explication of Nietzschean texts. Yet there appears to be a third category of books about Nietzsche, and this new one by Lampert offers an interesting instance. In 1975, Tracy Strong said in Political Theory that until 1960 most books on Nietzsche tried to show how much Nietzsche resembled other political philosophers and theorists. Almost three decades later, we now seem more confident about Nietzsche and ready to confront and contest Nietzsche's discursive formations without necessarily referring to other philosophers. Lampert's book is excellent, and what makes it stand out and capture the reader's attention is his organizational style, which approximates an ordered and precisely executed military campaign.

The main strengths of the book are many and ample, but my favorite is Lampert's ability to negotiate the harsh and mysterious Nietzschean landscape without sacrificing the basic unity of Nietzsche's thought. This is seen in the repetition of Lampert's arguments about Nietzsche's anti-Platonism, the master's (Nietzsche as antihero) strained voice against philosophy as expounded in the chapter on Das Religiose Wesen, and indeed the entire line of footnotes, which includes the ones with particularly large theoretical feet such as Descartes, Kant, and Platonism's greatest achievement in modernity, "Christianity" itself. Lampert announces that Nietzsche's fundamental argument is found in the first three chapters of Beyond Good and Evil, which "is displayed mythically in Thus Spoke Zarathustra: the rational must rule the irrational, the natural, the unnatural" (136). Lampert's rational scholarship is itself found in his natural ability to qualitatively assess the Nietzschean terrain. His chosen area of operation is not, as one might anticipate, to be bound simply by the length and breadth of Beyond Good and Evil. Rather, Lampert exquisitely shows how his interpretation goes beyond the Platonic "good" and the Christian "evil" by a careful enmeshing of the Nietzschean discursive camouflage from many of Nietzsche's other works so that the nine chapters sit neatly within Lampert's strategic considerations. Nietzsche's Task engages Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil almost section by section, presenting and interpreting each one clearly and neatly. Anyone reading Lampert's new book will encounter the intricacies of his combative power and the stark pronouncements that reflect the mystical intensity of Nietzsche.

Lampert succinctly combines the themes in Beyond Good and Evil and adds, "[T]he will to power is the ultimate subject of psychology, the study of the human soul, the science affording privileged access to the fundamental problems" (57), where in order to free the mind, the philosopher must ironically "exercise suspicion against the vestige of moral faith that imagines that consciousness yields immediate certainties." One such certainty is God, who, ironically, ought to be seen as the Devil, "an all powerful tyrant who put the earth under a curse and assigned it to the Prince of Darkness .-.-. this crime against our divinity goes far beyond the merely historical judgment that God is dead; it speaks the ultimate ill of the dead so it can't be tastefully spoken though it can be usefully implied. The crime against our divinity reverses the earlier crime against our world" (89). Contemporary Nietzsche scholars appear to be in general agreement that the text of Beyond Good and Evil represents a critical turning point toward a new style of writing in the variegated Nietzschean landscape. Yet one occasionally wonders if Lampert forgot that Nietzsche believed that "nothing is fundamental" in Beyond Good and Evil, and that Nietzsche warned moderns about succumbing to the herdlike behavior of the masses (see, for example, BGE 4–5 and 9). Lampert expertly corrals the antimodernist arguments in Beyond Good and Evil and resolves these as Nietzsche's primary task, placing one over the other.

I would like to direct readers to a hidden motif within Lampert's work: Nietzsche's Task is a medieval military medley of Tristan and Isolde retold...

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