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Nietzsche's Case: Philosophy as/and Literature (review)

From: Philosophy and Literature
Volume 19, Number 1, April 1995
pp. 164-165 | 10.1353/phl.1995.0024

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Philosophy and Literature 19.1 (1995) 164-165

Book Review

Nietzsche's Case: Philosophy as/and Literature

Nietzsche's Case: Philosophy as/and Literature, by Bernd Magnus, Jean-Pierre Mileur and Stanley Stewart; 284 pp. New York: Routledge, Chapman & Hall, 1993, $16.95.

In their "Pre(post)faces," which open and conclude Nietzsche's Case, the authors explain that the essay was primarily motivated by a problem they perceived in English-speaking Nietzsche criticism. Critical discussion of Nietzsche has suffered, they argue, from institutionalized "mutual shunning" which creates a neat divide between literary and philosophical discourses. From within the safety of their professional keep, philosophers have generally adjudged literary treatments of Nietzsche's writings negatively, assigning them a place on a scale ranging from "inaccurate" to "inept." Viewed from the walls surrounding the literary stronghold, philosophical analyzes of Nietzsche have appeared naive and/or uninteresting. The authors assert that especially in the case of Nietzsche this turf mentality in the humanities has impoverished our cultural imagination, since he presents us with a sort of writing which defies mutually exclusive pigeon-holing as either philosophical or literary.

Philosophy, the authors maintain, arises "out of the possibilities of idealization" (p. 138). Literary criticism, on the other hand, is "based on the possibilities of textualization" (p. 138). Philosophers studying Nietzsche tend to look for coherent meaning and, even more importantly, for logical rigor, whereas literary critics generally read "for novel new ideas, new insights, for fractures, fissures, and ambiguities in Nietzsche's texts, for opportunities or connections missed'' (p. 4). Nietzsche's Case is an experiment in genre-mixing, incorporating as it does all of these concerns into its critical perspective. The authors argue that Nietzsche's work demands such criticism since his texts are informed by a conceptual rigor whose logic involves exploitation of the literary and rhetorical possibilities of the written word.

The book's project -- undertaken, appropriately enough, by a philosopher (Magnus) and two literary theorists (Mileur and Stewart)--sets out to establish a new mode of criticism by carefully tracing the ways in which Nietzsche's texts exceed traditional boundaries. The book's extended argument aims at showing that Nietzsche's transgression of hoary epistemic borders was directly motivated by his own genealogy of Western knowledge. "I, Plato, am the truth"--Nietzsche's quip from the Twilight of the Idols ironically exposesthe philosophical will to truth, and it is this claim to be primarily concerned with truth that the authors say can be seen "with only slight exaggeration," as "the founding gesture of philosophy as it has been delivered over to us" (p. 4).They helpfully recall that part of Nietzsche's genealogy which traces the origins of philosophy to religion and the priestly caste. Claims to the possession of knowledge were tied very early on to priestly strategies of asceticism and social domination, which cleverly highlighted the salvational nature of "true" knowledge as well as the discipline and self-renunciation required to attain it. On Nietzsche's analysis, the dedication of philosophers to truth for truth's sake and the supposedly disinterested character of their ideas and observations are the descendants of priestly asceticism.

Magnus, Mileur and Stewart suggest that the philosophers' assumption of a wholly objective and definitive access to truth was a pipedream, and that it helped seduce philosophers into a blindness vis-à-vis the interested and personal nature of their own theories, the textuality of their interpretations of world and humankind. If one grants this thesis, then the self-evident contemporary division between philosophy and literary criticism becomes, effectively, much less self-evident.

The book's originality and strength comes out best in the detailed analyses to which the authors' new critical mode gives rise. In addition to displaying an impressive command of the enormous secondary literature on Nietzsche, the research team draws a series of novel and interesting comparisons between Nietzsche's texts and texts from the English Renaissance and Romantic periods. Their emphasis on understanding the rhetorical aspects of Nietzsche's writing -- such as his continual use of hyperbole -- should prove to be a genuine resource in interpreting his writings in the future. By pointing out and investigating the various rhetorical devices...

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