- Nietzsche’s Search for Philosophy: On the Middle Writings by Keith Ansell-Pearson, and: Nietzsche’s Free Spirit Works: A Dialectical Reading by Matthew Meyer
London: Bloomsbury, 2018. xi + 181 pp.
isbn: 978-147425469-4 (Hardcover); 978-1474254700 (Paper). Hardcover, £65.00; Paper, £21.99.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019. xi + 275 pp.
isbn: 9781108474177. Hardcover, $99.99.
There was a time in the not too distant past when one would be obliged to begin a review like this with a comment about the relative neglect of Nietzsche’s middle works, HH, D, and GS. That time now seems to be [End Page 139] well behind us. In recent years, there has been a spate of scholarly books (not to mention articles) devoted to these works, including Ruth Abbey’s Nietzsche’s Middle Period (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), Michael Ure’s Nietzsche’s Therapy: Self-Cultivation in the Middle Works (Lanham, MD: Lexington, 2008), Jonathan Cohen’s Science, Culture, and Free Spirits: A Study of Nietzsche’s Human, All Too Human (Amherst, NY: Humanity Books, 2010), Monika Langer’s Nietzsche’s Gay Science (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), and my own Nietzsche’s Enlightenment: The Free-Spirit Trilogy of the Middle Period (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011). The two books under review here are welcome additions to this growing list of books on Nietzsche’s middle period, and both shed fresh light on it. At the same time, they reflect two very different approaches to the interpretation of Nietzsche’s notoriously elusive texts.
Let me start with Ansell-Pearson’s Nietzsche’s Search for Philosophy. A prolific scholar of Nietzsche’s philosophy, Ansell-Pearson argues that Nietzsche’s middle writings are of particular interest because they are “less dogmatic and essentialist” than his later writings” (1), and because they contain some of the “richest moments and insights” in Nietzsche’s search for philosophy (14). Ansell-Pearson’s specific claim is that “an ethos of Epicurean enlightenment pervades Nietzsche’s middle writings,” an ethos that deploys the tools of reason to enable human beings to cultivate worthwhile lives and deliver them from irrational fears and anxieties (3–4). An important source for Ansell-Pearson’s interpretation comes from WS, where Nietzsche speaks favorably of Epicurus as the inventor of a “heroic-idyllic mode of philosophizing” that finds visual expression in Poussin’s classical landscapes, in which there is “nothing of desire or expectation, no looking before and behind” (WS 295).
HH and its two supplements, AOM and WS, provide perhaps the strongest evidence for Ansell-Pearson’s Epicurean interpretation of Nietzsche’s middle writings. It is in these works that Nietzsche extols the moderation that comes from the free-spirited quest for knowledge, maintaining that “under the influence of purifying knowledge,” the free spirit would “live among men [. . .] as in nature, without praising, blaming, contending, gazing contentedly, as though at a spectacle, upon many things for which one formerly felt only fear” (HH 34; see also HH 107). This quote comes from the original, 1878 HH, a work that Ansell-Pearson sees as heavily informed by scientific positivism and that he sharply distinguishes from the later supplements, in which the “ethical project of seeking ‘spiritual-physical health and maturity’” becomes [End Page 140] more prominent (8, 17–18). I’m not sure the distinction Ansell-Pearson draws here is quite as clear-cut as he suggests. HH is only crudely described as a positivistic work, and it is animated—as the quote above suggests—by profoundly ethical, spiritual, and cultural concerns. No doubt there is development from HH to AOM and WS—after all, Nietzsche is experimenting with a whole new way of thinking and writing—but this development is much messier and more complicated than Ansell-Pearson makes it out to be.
Ansell-Pearson continues his investigation of Nietzsche’s middle-period search for a renovated Epicurean philosophy with an analysis of D, which he describes as a “path-breaking work and an exercise in modern emancipation” as well as the “most...