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  • Nietzsche and Gadamer on Truth and Interpretation
  • Nibras Chehayed (bio)

At first glance, Nietzsche does not appear in the Gadamerian text as a crucial figure, like, for example, Heidegger, Plato, and Aristotle. Nonetheless, a careful reading will dissipate this first impression. Gadamer mentions Nietzsche on several occasions, and two of them are extremely significant. The first occasion is Gadamer's dialogue with Derrida; the second is Gadamer's interpretation of Thus Spoke Zarathustra. The latter is noteworthy insofar as it shows how Gadamer develops a hermeneutical reading of an enormously complicated book. The first is even more significant insofar as it concerns the concept of hermeneutics. Indeed, to distinguish hermeneutics from a deconstructive reading, Gadamer and Derrida resort to Nietzsche as the key figure.

Reading Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Gadamer lists three major points that make Nietzsche a crucial figure in the history of philosophy. First, Nietzsche is "a radical investigator" who challenges the task of philosophy itself. With [End Page 251] Nietzsche, philosophy becomes a dangerous field in which future philosophers destabilize the possibility of truth. Second, Nietzsche—or more precisely Zarathustra—is a "conscious parodist" who imitates the traditional styles of making truth claims, in a derisory way, to flatten the old values and to challenge metaphysical and moral foundation. Third, Nietzsche is a "genius psychologist" who goes beyond common beliefs to examine the motivations and needs that lie behind one's behaviors and convictions (Gadamer 2000, 13–14; my translation).

Nietzsche's philosophy represents for Gadamer a philosophy of extreme provocation, animated by "the spirit of innocence, of game, of an absolute lack of consciousness of time, of a life completely for the moment" (Gadamer 2000, 24). This spirit of play, which typifies Zarathustra's third metamorphosis into a child and characterizes his language, constitutes for Gadamer one of the most important keys to approach Nietzsche's philosophy. Mocking the stability of metaphysical claims, Nietzsche challenges the traditional status of language as a simple tool used to express what is already present. Rather than being the paradigm of presence, Zarathustra's language is a game of masks that hides when it expresses: "I have learned to remain silent from time to time; it is necessary to learn to speak in order to keep silence" (quoted, 25). In Nietzsche's philosophy "interpretation is not a discovery of meaning, but an encounter with a meaning, with a will to power and with the work of a creator" (Gadamer 2000, 17–18).

Nietzsche is also present in Derrida–Gadamer debate. The former returns to Nietzsche to criticize the latter's project. According to Derrida, the hermeneutical understanding of world is animated by a will of ruling meaning, presupposing the existence of a possible unity where there is nothing other than interruption. Therefore, hermeneutics, from Derrida's point of view, seeks to dominate meaning. Among all the themes he raises in his dialogue with Gadamer, the question of continuity seems to be the most important:

One can still raise questions about that axiomatic precondition of interpretive discourse which Professor Gadamer calls "Verstehen," "understanding the other," and "understanding one another." Whether one speaks of consensus or of misunderstanding (as in Schleiermacher), one needs to ask whether the [End Page 252] precondition for Verstehen, far from being the continuity of rapport …, is not rather the interruption of rapport, a certain rapport of interruption, the suspending of all mediation?

(Derrida, Collective 1989, 53)

In the same movement, Derrida evokes Nietzsche, depicting his philosophy through the defect of identity, continuity, and unity, considered as metaphysical illusions. Therefore, Derrida's return to Nietzsche becomes one of his most important strategies to read Gadamer's hermeneutics. The latter sums up the former's position as follows:

To [Derrida's deconstruction], Heidegger lacks ultimate radicality in continuing to seek the meaning of Being and thereby clinging to a question which, one can show, can have no meaningful answer corresponding to it. To the question of the meaning of Being Derrida counterposes the notion of "difference" and sees in Nietzsche a more radical figure in contrast to the metaphysically tempered claim of Heideggerian thinking. He views Heidegger as still aligned with logocentrism, against which he poses as...


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