- Nietzsche's Earth: Great Events, Great Politics by Gary Shapiro
In Nietzsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra, a central teaching calls on humanity to be "true to the earth," to affirm "the meaning [Sinn] of the earth." Scholars commonly read this as a call to embrace natural life, countering any transcendent or life-denying doctrine in the tradition. While certainly an apt reading, Gary Shapiro's remarkable new book draws attention to and articulates the many ways in which Nietzsche celebrates the actual earthen characteristics of human habitats: the concrete places, locales, climates, and environments that sustain our dwelling on earth. Here, geology and geography are brought to bear and expanded into an enriched, meaning-laden "geo-philosophy." Shapiro interprets Nietzsche's self-attestation to a "great politics on earth" less in any overt political register and more as a reorientation of living and thinking toward what our earth-habitat opens up and calls for on its own terms, which Shapiro counterposes to a fugitive emphasis on "world" in philosophy, even to this day. Geopolitics juxtaposes the earth against "world history," which began with Christian theology and was transformed by Hegel into something immanent, namely a teleological script that sees time as the gradual progression toward some completed worldly condition that in effect brings the course of history to an end. Shapiro ably shows how certain contemporary viewpoints have been or are susceptible to this world completion complex, whether it be the victory of capitalism, democracy, or the caliphate, among other visions. Nietzsche's "philosophy of the future" challenges world-historical time, which Shapiro renders, rightly in my view, not as some philosophy to come, but rather philosophy as futurial, always open to new possibilities rather than a completed state. Shapiro brings the earth to bear on this matter by working with the notion, particularly in Zarathustra, of the earth as a "garden," which can combine organic life energies with the creative intervention of garden art.
I have been studying Nietzsche for fifty years, and it is rare that I come across an interpretation that opens up something truly new to me. Shapiro's book has done that. [End Page 549] His close reading of texts was impressive in showing how frequent and extensive earthen references are in Nietzsche's writings, especially in Zarathustra but in other works as well: temporal references such as birth and death, dawn and twilight, noon and midnight, the future, and recurrence; place references such as north and south, climate, ocean, sky, mountains, caves, deserts, gardens, sea voyages, and island hopping. Shapiro could have said more, I think, about the central role of animals in Zarathustra and how animality pertains to the earth.
Also impressive is how Shapiro is able to apply this earth perspective to Nietzsche's critical "unmodern" and "untimely" posture toward his own era, and by extension to our own time: how a journalistic myopia has compressed time into narrow and thoughtless interests; how global objective measures of time have overridden local milieus; how the modern state has locked the earth and life into geographical/political regimes of territory and denatured control. Shapiro shows persuasively how Nietzsche celebrated two features of modern life that could mitigate such regimes: plurality (by repairing the translation of Menge as "diverse multitude" rather than "mass"), and mobility (Nietzsche's passion for travel and his recognition of growing migration patterns and nomadic conditions). Both of these features are tied to Nietzsche's concept of the "good European," which can well address the immigration crisis facing the West today.
In addition, Shapiro's book is able to show how a Nietzschean geo-philosophy is a precursor to modern environmental movements, but with a deepened sense of how being true to the earth must ward off any world-inflected viewpoints that deflect from the immanence, carnality, and "innocence" of the earth. In other words, how overcoming threats to the environment must include a life-affirmative posture that must overcome humanistic reductions—but also, in my view, something like trans-humanism or a radical earth...