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  • Der Antichrist und der Gekreuzigte: Friedrich Nietzsches letzte Texte by Heinrich Detering
  • Anna Barth
Heinrich Detering, Der Antichrist und der Gekreuzigte: Friedrich Nietzsches letzte Texte. Göttingen: Wallstein, 2010. 230 pp. ISBN: 978-3-8353-0635-6. Cloth, €19.90.

The ambivalent status of Nietzsche as both genius and madman is the greatest myth of modern philosophy. In The Gay Science of 1882, he presented the parable of the madman seeking God and attesting his death (GS 125), and less than seven years later, only a few days before he was admitted to the Basel mental asylum, he wrote to Meta von Salis that “[t]he world is transfigured, for God is on Earth” and signed the letter “The Crucified” (KGB III:5, 1239). It is not surprising that scholars consider notes like this, penned by the harshest critic of Christianity, as symptoms of Nietzsche’s insanity or pathological megalomania.

However, with this excellent study, Der Antichrist und der Gekreuzigte: Friedrich Nietzsches letzte Texte, the German literary scholar Heinrich Detering takes a very different approach. Detering’s hermeneutics are led by philology, not psychology. That is, he is not interested in providing a medical or psychoanalytic assessment of Nietzsche’s last works and letters, but rather bases his [End Page 490] analysis on a close reading of them and on two premises: first, that there is a continuity between Nietzsche’s last published works and the letters and notes of his so-called insanity, and second, that Nietzsche remained fully accountable for his statements. In contrast to many scholars, then, for Detering Nietzsche’s late identification with “The Crucified” is neither a withdrawal of his earlier polemics nor a final act of scorning blasphemy. Instead, Detering argues, it is a “narrative consequence” (163) of Nietzsche’s role-playing from The Antichrist and the Dionysian Dithyrambs to Ecce Homo and his last letters.

In seventeen short chapters, Detering reconstructs this narration, directed against both Christian dogmatics and scientific historicism. The Antichrist is thus taken as fiercely combating the “life of Jesus” research of Nietzsche’s contemporary theologists, and particularly David Friedrich Strauss and Ernest Renan, who presented Jesus as a teacher of virtue or even as a hero. Detering further points out that Nietzsche’s antichrist is not only an antidogmatist and an antihistorian, but also an anti-Wagner. Richard Wagner had proclaimed and practiced a conception of art that was supposed to replace traditional religious systems with an autonomous art-religion. Although Nietzsche shared this idea, his conception also included freedom from resentment, leadership, and glorification—he thus was afraid of being sainted or winning believers (EH “Why I Am a Destiny” 1).

According to Detering, after working on his “anti-Bible” through his antiredeemer Zarathustra, and after dismissing both ecclesiastical Christianity and Wagnerian art-religion, Nietzsche returned to his Jesus narration in the summer of 1888, when he started working on The Antichrist. This turn appears surprising, since Nietzsche’s earlier statements about Christianity in general and Jesus in particular seemed quite conclusively negative. For Zarathustra, Jesus was a melancholic Hebrew who was exasperated with the good and just and therefore longed for death (Z I: “Voluntary Death”). And in Beyond Good and Evil Nietzsche portrayed an uncompromising Jesus who frantically demanded to be loved and nothing else: his deep knowledge of love brought forth a contradiction of life, for it made him conceive of hell (to send there those who would not love him), desire to die, and invent a God who is nothing but merciful love (BGE 269).

In The Antichrist, however, both Jesus and God are given a new quality. God suddenly appears as the transfiguration of life and not its contradiction (A 18). According to Detering, for the first time after attesting God’s death, Nietzsche thus came to a positive perception of God, even if only ex negatione. Jesus himself appears as a “great symbolist” (A 34) whose symbols (“Son of God,” “Father,” “kingdom of heaven”) are misappropriated by Christianity. By introducing the terms of guilt, reward, and punishment and the promise of the coming kingdom of heaven, Christianity made the Gospel a life-negating “Dysangelium” (A 39). All these terms, related...


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