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The Journal of Nietzsche Studies 25 (2003) 78-91

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Nietzsche's Geophilosophy

Stephan Günzel

Mental landscapes do not change haphazardly through the ages: a mountain had to rise here or a river to flow by there again recently for the ground, now dry and flat, to have a particular appearance and texture.

—Gilles Deleuze/Félix Guattari

In the following, I interpret Nietzsche according to Gilles Deleuze's and Félix Guattari's concept of 'geophilosophy,' a category they introduced into philosophical discourse in 1991. Deleuze and Guattari raised the question of the status of a geographical paradigm within the positioning of philosophical problems. They did this specifically with respect to the meaning of landscape metaphors, descriptions of the sea, and mountaineering analogies in philosophical texts. 1 Their work redefines the utopian structure inherent in most philosophies (especially revolutionary theories) in a geographical context that usually persists in the presence of the absence of the place to come. This redefinition consists in the transformation of a temporal structure back into the spatial structure from which, they claim, it originally stemmed.

In their final book What Is Philosophy? Deleuze and Guattari called Nietzsche the one who "founded geophilosophy." 2 According to that notion, I will begin by characterizing the significance of geophilosophy in light of Nietzsche. The predominance of geographical metaphors in Nietzsche's texts has in fact often been recognized: Ernst Bertram 3 (who was associated with the "George-Kreis"), Theodor Lessing 4 (one of the earliest ecologists in a global style), and Karl Jaspers, 5 to name the important prewar thinkers in this respect, all grappled with the function of Nietzsche's geographical descriptions. But all of them maintained that the landscapes appearing in Nietzsche's texts, especially in Thus Spake Zarathustra, were representations of actual [End Page 78] landscapes experienced by Nietzsche, which subsequently became inner landscapes for him, ones in which he kept wandering while writing his notes and composing his books.

In the first step I want to look closer at the dimensions of this problem, of the geographical within the philosophical. To do so, I want to deepen the distinction between the biographical and the textual, that is, the actual and the virtual, by giving examples how in contemporary approaches and within the transformation of traditional concepts the geographical as well as the topographical became an originative and irreplaceable method of philosophical argumentation and conceptualization.

Second, I will list types and discuss cases of geographical and cosmographic figures in Nietzsche's Zarathustra with which I want to explicate the conceptual part of those metaphors: the sun and the moon, the sea, the mountains, and, probably most famous, the desert. They are all used by Nietzsche in a strategic way (for argumentation) just as they are used as allegories (as metaphor) and, at the same time, to create the theatrical backgrounds of the Zarathustrian poem. I have chosen those metaphors not only because they strongly structure Nietzsche's text but also because they allow the contrast of famous cases of metaphorical argumentation in the history of philosophy (such as those within Plato, Kant, and Hegel) as well as in the reception of Nietzsche, namely, within Heidegger.

From here I finally want to present my conception of geophilosophy as philosophical critique rooted in Nietzsche's writing in combination with his notion of cultural perspectivism and historical relativism. Taking into account the uprise of geopolitical thinking at the end of the nineteenth century—after the epoch of historicism—we can understand aspects of his philosophy as a theory of political practice at the moment of the closing of globalization: within a finite world territorial processes are becoming absolute. Again, at this point I will use Heidegger's interpretation of Nietzsche's historical criticism, along with geohistorical thinking, to show what, at least, is not meant by 'geophilosophy.'

1. Philosophical Landscapes

Against the common approach of many Nietzsche-researchers, I draw a distinction between experience and the significance of metaphors. This distinction is legitimated by the following: Nietzsche's poor health did not allow him to visit all the places he described, and his...


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