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Nietzsche on Time and History (review)

From: The Journal of Nietzsche Studies
Issue 39, Spring 2010
pp. 89-92 | 10.1353/nie.0.0058

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

The volume Nietzsche on Time and History brings together fourteen essays that were presented during the Fifteenth International Conference of the Friedrich Nietzsche Society (U.K.), held in Cambridge, in September 2005. The chapters are written by leading Nietzsche scholars, mainly from the Anglo-American world. Together they aim at establishing the correlation between Nietzsche's philosophy of time and his philosophy of history. The contributions are divided into the following five parts: "I. Time, History, Method"; "II. Genealogy, Time, Becoming"; "III. Eternal Recurrence, Meaning, Agency"; "IV. Nietzsche's Contemporaries"; and "V. Tragic and Musical Time."

The scholarly quality of the essays in general is rather high, and many of them offer interesting insights to these important themes in Nietzsche. However, the way in which they are jointly presented, as if they were part of the common undertaking of investigating the correlation between Nietzsche's philosophy of time and his philosophy of history, is not convincing. There is, as we shall see, hardly any chapter that explicitly deals with how Nietzsche's view on time affects his approach to history or vice versa. And although the editor, Manuel Dries, does offer a reasonable explanation in his introduction of how Nietzsche's emphasis on both time and history could be related to Nietzsche's rejection of what Dries calls the "staticist worldview" (1-12), he does not clarify sufficiently in which ways the essays themselves deal with this issue.

Therefore, instead of treating this volume as a homogeneous whole, I will discuss some tensions within and between the chapters. In this way, I will illustrate the way in which they separately treat the central points of discussion with regard to the issues of time and history. In doing so, I will divide the essays into those that primarily focus on Nietzsche's philosophy of time and those that focus mainly on his approach to history, instead of following the rather inconvenient division of the book into five parts.1

The chapter that most closely connects with the issue that has been raised in the introduction is the essay of Dries in the second part of the volume, entitled "Towards Adualism: Becoming and Nihilism in Nietzsche's Philosophy." Admittedly, this extensive chapter covers a great deal of problems that are connected with this issue, for example, the relation between the belief in being and nihilism, the problem of grasping the notion of becoming in conceptual language, and the connection with time. A question might be raised, however, with regard to the central claim that Dries makes in his essay, that nihilism is a function of the belief in being (114-16). Should this not be the other way around? Is the belief in being, according to Nietzsche, not rather a symptom of the nihilistic inclination within humanity? And does Nietzsche not expose it as such, by way of a genealogical, rather than an ontological approach?

The contribution by R. Kevin Hill, "From Kantian Temporality to Nietzschean Naturalism," focuses on the status of time in Nietzsche. The author traces the development from Nietzsche's early transcendental idealism with regard to time toward his later naturalism. While the early Nietzsche considers time to be the projection of a primordial mind, the later Nietzsche perceives the mind, including its projective notion of time, as part of the temporal process of interpreting power relations. The commitment to two notions of time, to which this interpretation leads, could be related to the distinction that Dries makes in his chapter between the temporality of the process of becoming, which he designates as a preconscious background time, and time as perceived by conscious beings within the struggle of interpreting power relations, a perspectival conscious time (130-32).2

This distinction between two notions of time is contradicted, however, in Jonathan R. Cohen's essay "Nietzsche's Musical Conception of Time" in the fifth part. In this creative contribution, the author analyzes Nietzsche's musicological critique of Wagner's appropriation of "endless melody" technically and explains it visually with the help of copies of some original music scores. In relating this to Nietzsche's conception of time, the author argues, contrary to the previous contributions, that the later Nietzsche rejects...

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