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Journal of the History of Philosophy 40.1 (2002) 130-131
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Nietzsche and the Philology of the Future
The Invention of Dionysus: An Essay on 'The Birth of Tragedy.'
James I. Porter. Nietzsche and the Philology of the Future. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2000. Pp. xiii + 449. Cloth, $60.00. Paper, $19.95.
James I. Porter. The Invention of Dionysus: An Essay on 'The Birth of Tragedy.' Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2000. Pp. xiii + 224. Cloth, $45.00. Paper, $16.95.
Every year an astonishing number of books are published on Nietzsche. Here are two more from a single author. James I. Porter's thesis--in both of them--is that "The Birth of Tragedy does not mark a break in Nietzsche's thinking, whether away from his philological understanding of antiquity or toward . . . emancipation from metaphysics" (Philology of the Future, 2). Perhaps to lend drama to his case, he assumes an unwarranted degree of unanimity among those who see a break between the philological writings of the young Nietzsche and the philosophical ones written later. But Porter's elaboration of his own thesis is quite persuasive nonetheless. He shows that essential tenets of Nietzsche's later philosophy can be found in his early philological writings, and that Nietzsche's interpretations of the ancient Greeks were as ambiguous, "mythological," and self-critical as his later books. In this way, Porter extensively reinterprets Nietzsche's early writing.
The Invention of Dionysus is the shorter and more closely argued of the two books. Here Porter attempts to show that in The Birth of Tragedy Nietzsche both began his exposé of the fictional nature of all metaphysics and recognized that metaphysics would forever haunt the human mind. Porter asserts--more forcefully than earlier authors--that Nietzsche was decisively influenced by Friedrich Albert Lange in this; indeed he ascribes much of what is thought most characteristic of Nietzsche's philosophy to Lange! But what Porter takes away from Nietzsche and awards to Lange in originality, he returns to Nietzsche in subtlety.
Porter contends that throughout his career Nietzsche defended an "embattled position" (18), attempting to preserve both appearance and metaphysics as necessary dimensions of human consciousness. This is perhaps Porter's contribution: to assert that Nietzsche never thought he had abolished metaphysics in favor of appearance, as so many writers have claimed. According to Porter, Nietzsche understood in The Birth of Tragedy and throughout his career that metaphysics could never be abolished; that the act of trying to abolish metaphysics is itself inevitably metaphysical, and that any philosophy of appearances including his own must also be metaphysical. Porter characterizes Nietzsche's rhetorical stance as "mythological."
Porter quotes a passage from The Birth of Tragedy to show that Nietzsche was both eager to reveal the mythological status of Greek metaphysics, and fully aware that his own efforts to reveal it were mythological as well: "It is the fate of every myth to creep by degrees into the narrow limits of some alleged historical reality, and to be treated by some later generation as a unique fact with historical claims"(45). So if readers take Nietzsche's arguments at face value, that is understandable; but it does not make them any less mythological. According to Porter, this stance gives the lie to claims that The Birth of Tragedy was "still" metaphysical. And it should establish that from the first Nietzsche had a more subtle view of his project than previously acknowledged.
Porter makes this enduring mythological stance the central issue for interpreting Nietzsche's oeuvre. Interesting as this is, it makes Nietzsche out to be impossibly consistent and prescient about his later writing. And it leaves him an oddly disembodied thinker--quite contrary to his own understanding of the philosophical career. The obvious contortions [End Page 130] in Nietzsche's early writing--rooted in his attempt to be true to his own best insights while maintaining a strenuous discipleship to Richard Wagner--are entirely glossed over. While this might be...