- Kulturkritik et philosophie thérapeutique chez le jeune Nietzsche by Martine Béland
Martine Béland’s Kulturkritik et philosophie thérapeutique chez le jeune Nietzsche is an important contribution to the scholarly literature on Nietzsche in at least two respects. First, it exposes the therapeutic dimension of Nietzsche’s thought, which, despite recent interest (see especially Michael Ure, Nietzsche’s Therapy: Self-Cultivation in the Middle Works [New York: Lexington Books, 2008] and Horst Hutter and Eli Friedland, eds., Nietzsche’s Therapeutic Teaching [London: Bloomsbury, 2013]), is a topic that remains largely unexplored. Second, it focuses on Nietzsche’s earliest writings (the Basel period, 1869–79), which tend to be—with the notable exception of The Birth of Tragedy—the least widely read of his texts and those least commented on in Nietzsche scholarship.
The stated aim of the book is to unify and contextualize Nietzsche’s early work within a central therapeutic concern with the culture of his time. Connecting it with the Hellenistic conception of philosophy as medicine for the soul, Béland claims that Nietzsche’s early philosophical project can be identified as a “médecine philosophique pour la civilization allemande” (19). According to Béland, this project takes the form of a Kulturkritik, oriented toward the domains of education, literature, art, and knowledge in general and aimed at a “transvaluation de la modernité” (20). Completely at odds with the conception of philosophy practiced at the academy, this project generated a conflict between Nietzsche’s job and his vocation, which [End Page 488] eventually led him to quit the university and change the orientation of his philosophical activity. This particular (practical, critical, and therapeutic) understanding of philosophy, as well as its development in Nietzsche’s early thought, is the main object of Béland’s book.
The volume is divided into four main parts, followed by an epilogue, each of which corresponds to different levels of analysis of Nietzsche’s activity as a “philosophical physician.” Part I, “Nietzsche à Bâle,” focuses on the medical metaphor itself and seeks to describe it and contextualize it within the texts written in Basel. It offers illuminating conceptual and philological analysis not only of the expression “physician of culture” but also of key interrelated concepts, such as Kultur, Bildung, and Civilization (chapter 1). To these conceptual considerations, Béland adds information on the biographical and historical background that helps to clarify the progressive development, orientation, and definition of Nietzsche’s practice as a philosopher during his early years in Basel (chapter 2).
The second part of the book, “Symptomatologie,” is devoted to the “descriptive level” (“plan descriptif”) of Nietzsche’s project and describes the methodology, diagnosis, and prognosis at its core. Focusing on the texts from 1869 to 1876, Béland begins by analyzing Nietzsche’s “auscultation” of culture, singling out the philological (interpretative) and the philosophical (normative) methods and stressing the similarity between Nietzsche’s approach and the ancient Greek model (chapter 3). The three following chapters are dedicated to the exposition of Nietzsche’s diagnosed symptomatology at the level of politics (chapter 4), education (chapter 5), and literature/language (chapter 6). According to Béland, each set of symptoms manifests a certain imbalance of natural drives in the body of culture, the role of the medical philosopher being to restore them to a healthy equilibrium. A final chapter anachronistically unifies the above symptoms under the diagnosis of nihilism and presents the first steps of Nietzsche’s struggle for the constitution of a new tragic and artistic culture (chapter 7).
The descriptive level is followed by the normative level (“plan normatif”) in part III, “Thérapie,” where Béland rightly emphasizes the active dimension of Nietzsche’s early philosophy. The three chapters in this part aim to clarify Nietzsche’s therapeutic and combative practice on three different fronts. The first is the philological front, where Nietzsche is presented as struggling for the regeneration of German culture through Greek Antiquity...