- Nietzsche’s The Gay Science: An Introduction by Michael Ure
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019. viii + 273 pp.
isbn: 978-0-521-76090-4. Paper, $27.99.
Michael Ure’s introduction to Friedrich Nietzsche’s The Gay Science is a welcome contribution to the secondary literature. He provides a clear and coherent account of this complex text and situates his interpretation within Nietzsche’s larger oeuvre and philosophical project. Ure advances an original thesis—GS is Nietzsche’s attempt to revive an ancient understanding of philosophy as a way of life—that will be of interest to scholars more generally, and yet he still succeeds in introducing the text to the novice reader. Although I identify some points of disagreement below, Ure has nevertheless written the best introduction to GS currently available in the English language.
The structure of Ure’s text largely follows that of GS (although he forgoes any substantive discussion of the poetry that begins and ends the text). After an introduction in which he focuses on Nietzsche’s understanding of philosophy, Ure moves through the contents of the five books of GS in step-by-step fashion. He devotes the first chapter, “Nietzsche’s Tragicomedy,” to discussing the first aphorism alone and the important role that tragedy and comedy play in the work. The next four chapters cover the first four books of GS and so the entirety of the 1882 edition. After delving into the eternal recurrence in the sixth chapter, Ure dedicates his final two chapters to the preface and the fifth book, both of which were added to the 1887 edition of GS.
Ure’s interpretation of GS is clearly animated by the theme of his previous work, Nietzsche’s Therapy: Self-Cultivation in the Middle Works (Lanham, MD: Lexington Press, 2008). There, he argues that Nietzsche [End Page 120] practices the art of self-cultivation in the so-called middle or free spirit works (HH I and II, D, and GS). In this volume, Ure defends the view that “Nietzsche follows the ancients in conceiving philosophy as a way of life that entails a set of philosophical practices, disciplines and techniques that enable philosophers to transform and cure themselves” (2). According to Ure, GS is therefore central to Nietzsche’s metaphilosophy, and the metaphilosophical position Nietzsche advances in this text harkens back to ancient philosophy and contrasts sharply with the current understanding of philosophy as primarily an academic or theoretical enterprise (4).
One of the merits of Ure’s work is that he tries to understand GS within the larger context of Nietzsche’s free spirit works. He notes that Nietzsche conceived of these as a unified project, and Ure identifies a therapeutic motif that runs throughout a number of these texts. Another merit of Ure’s work is that he presents GS as critiquing the therapeutic strategies that Nietzsche employs in earlier phases of the free spirit project. There, Nietzsche often borrows techniques from Hellenistic philosophers such as the Epicureans, Stoics, Cynics, and Skeptics. According to Ure, Nietzsche casts such therapies in GS as anti-erotic forms of optimism that are “continuations or refractions” of the very illness they try to treat (14). That is, by trying to control or extirpate the passions in a quest for ataraxia or apatheia, Hellenistic philosophers only make matters worse. In contrast, GS offers an “erotic pedagogy”—symbolized by Nietzsche’s appeal to troubadours in the text—that embraces both passion and suffering and so counters the classical rationalism and scientific positivism that characterize earlier stages of the free spirit works (15). All of this is spot-on, and the prominent role that passion or eros plays in the text is an excellent way of marking the difference between GS and, with the possible exception of the final chapters of D, previous free spirit works.
Ure’s reading, however, is not without difficulties. First, if we agree with Ure that Nietzsche is critiquing, in GS, the very therapies he embraced in previous free spirit works, then we are left wondering in what sense the free spirit works are a unified project. Indeed...