- Nietzsche, Tension, and the Tragic Disposition by Matthew Tones
New York: Lexington, 2014. xvii + 159 pp. isbn: 978-0-7391-8771-7. Hardcover, $80.00.
In Nietzsche, Tension, and the Tragic Disposition, Matthew Tones undertakes an ambitious journey through Nietzsche’s writings, dealing with, among other things, Nietzsche’s notion of tragedy, his relation to ancient Greek thought, his naturalism, and the concept of nobility developed in GM and BGE. Tones thus gives a detailed and insightful reconstruction of Nietzsche’s philosophy. But this strength of the book is unfortunately also its limit. Tones highlights the complexities of the problems he discusses, [End Page 300] but one gets the impression that he succumbs to his “will” to systematize Nietzsche’s thinking: he creates harmonies where there are tensions and gives answers where Nietzsche leaves us with questions.
Tones’s main thesis is that Nietzsche’s notion of nobility (Adel) requires the noble person to face an abysmal insight into man’s “tragic disposition” in relation to the world—by which Tones means the state of tension between man’s desire for stability and eternity and the inevitable destruction that contradicts it (xii). Tones develops his argument for this thesis in five chapters.
The first chapter deals with the concept of a tragic disposition and its ontological foundation in Nietzsche’s reconstruction of pre-Platonic philosophy in PTAG and PPP, and in particular his treatments of Heraclitus and Anaximander. The second chapter then examines the concept of phusis as becoming and growth. Tones connects phusis to the “tragic disposition” by arguing that Nietzsche views nature fatalistically, as a state of tension in which human desires for stability are constantly frustrated. He convincingly shows that this view of nature is closely modeled on Heraclitus’s conception of reality as flux, and he is also right that at the time of BT Nietzsche considers the tragic to involve both an insight into the destructive forces of nature and an optimism that allows the individual to survive. Here Tones also focuses on the idea of the chthonic as finitude (27). Although Nietzsche himself does not use this term, for Tones the tragic is an acceptance of one’s own finitude, or the impossibility of satisfying one’s desire for permanence (30). Since he believes that this insight is reached only by a few “noble” men and not by the “herd,” a political and social dimension also enters into Tones’s argument here. He speaks of a “noble selection” and a “noble disposition,” terms that he draws from GS, and he claims that “what separates the noble from the herd is this respect in their attitude to suffering” (47). In particular, he claims that the noble achieves a “unity with phusis” because “[t]he noble is driven by instinctual feelings of pleasure and displeasure sufficient to suspend reason” (31). Thus the noble is supposed to be in touch with the “chthonic” principle in himself, something that Tones also describes as “Dionysian” and “Titanic.”
In the third chapter, the concepts of the divine and sacrilege are examined. Tones argues convincingly that Nietzsche turns to ancient Greek sources to find a concept of divinity that is close to humanity, particularly with Zarathustra’s demand to create ideals that do not repress humanity, but enrich it, and new gods that are situated not in some other world, but in this one. The fourth chapter then draws further implications for the interpretation [End Page 301] of Z. Here Tones examines the allegory of Zarathustra’s “journey into the uncomfortable” (77), referring again to ancient Greek thought and also mentioning links with Weimar classicism and Hölderlin. However, he also qualifies his claim about Nietzsche’s strong links with ancient Greek philosophy, leaving the rather vague conclusion that Nietzsche is closely related to the Greeks, but also departs from their way of thinking. The same is suggested for Nietzsche’s links to Weimar classicism and Hölderlin.
In the final chapter, Tones brings together different threads of his argument, including his thesis about the similarities between Nietzsche’s early and late work: “Despite the modern, largely decadent, environment...