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Wishes of the Heart: Walter Kaufmann, Karl Jaspers, and Disposition in Nietzsche Scholarship

From: The Journal of Nietzsche Studies
Issue 33, Spring 2007
pp. 5-24 | 10.1353/nie.2007.0010

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

I. Introduction: Whose Nietzsche?

Without the efforts of Karl Jaspers and Walter Kaufmann, serious Nietzsche scholarship could have been set back at least a generation. Each wrote a "big book" on Nietzsche, one that not only offered a comprehensive overview of Nietzsche's philosophy but challenged the reader not to settle for anything less than a full Auseinandersetzung with Nietzsche's work and personality. This article argues that Jaspers's 1935 Nietzsche: Einführung in das Verständnis seines Philosophierens (translated as Nietzsche: An Introduction to the Understanding of His Philosophical Activity) and Kaufmann's 1950 Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist need more study and that they should be examined in relation to each other. The vast scholarship on Nietzsche has grown to the point where an investigation of the underlying dynamics of the secondary literature is of pressing concern. After all, Nietzsche himself warned about putting any trust in professors in order to understand his thought. His opinion of academics who write monographs that do nothing more than rehash the ideas of others was, to put it mildly, blistering. Such scholars, for him, are "unbegeistert, ungespässig / unverwüstlich-mittelmässig / sans génie et sans esprit" (BGE 228). Therefore, if figures like Jaspers and Kaufmann—who were certainly aware of the dismissive tone Zarathustra takes in "Von den Gelehrten"—took it upon themselves to write academic studies of Nietzsche, we should ask what they preserved from Nietzsche's own "antiacademic" spirit.

What is at stake here goes beyond an expanded focus on the intertwining of Nietzsche's "reception history" with wider social and cultural currents. There is something very un-Nietzschean about treating Nietzsche scholarship as if works such as Jaspers's and Kaufmann's were not, in their own ways, expressions of a will to power. Indeed, there is a side to Nietzsche that invites such consideration of his commentators. As Kaufmann himself noted, Nietzsche "pioneered psychohistory," with an eye toward comprehending the motives of those influencing humanity's moral and spiritual life. Indeed, the whole opening sections of Beyond Good and Evil are an invitation to look at the history of philosophy in this more psychological vein, inquiring after the Herzenswunsch—"wishes of the heart" (BGE 19)—that animated a worldview and its style of articulation. Looking forward to what came after Nietzsche, rather than before him, it seems right to think that (once he left off thundering about "scholarly oxen") he would ask students of his philosophy to investigate how a "wish of the heart," broadly defined, colored the commentary on him. What led Karl Jaspers and Walter Kaufmann to produce rich, yet conflicting, readings of Nietzsche's work?

This is not a narrow topic of inquiry. From the standpoint of the twenty-first century, when Nietzsche is securely established as a scholarly subject, it is easy to forget how unstable "Nietzsche" was to the reading public in the first half of the twentieth century, as he was, more often than not, "packaged" in a way that was not conducive to concentrating on his writings as a whole. A few familiar facts of Nietzsche's reception deserve to be reiterated: in his lifetime, Nietzsche's books were little regarded, and Nietzsche occasionally even paid for his own publishing costs. He attracted widespread literary attention only around the time of his mental collapse in January 1889. After this, Nietzsche's name and fame spread quickly, not only in Germany. However, no one can suggest that he became famous exclusively for good reasons or because he was carefully understood. Nietzsche was read in any manner of ways and, often, polemically, badly, or both. Thus, for almost half a century, what we would now recognize as serious writing on Nietzsche was dogged by the need to prove that Nietzsche was coherent enough to be a real philosopher and that the essence of this coherence was not a hysterical advocacy of immoral behavior. Expositors such as Jaspers and Kaufmann gave Nietzsche a sense of structure and import that, at the least, made it possible to identify irresponsible examples of Nietzsche scholarship as precisely that: irresponsible.

Naturally, this is not to suggest that only Jaspers and Kaufmann encouraged the disciplined study...

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