- Individuality and Beyond: Nietzsche Reads Emerson by Benedetta Zavatta
In her remarkable comparative analysis of the thought of Emerson and Nietzsche, Benedetta Zavatta has several aims, the first of which is to demonstrate the necessity of philology for evaluating Emerson's actual influence on Nietzsche. Though Emerson's influence on Nietzsche's thought is already well known to scholars, her impressive analysis is quite unique in that it enables her reader to evaluate Nietzsche's reception of Emerson from a sound philological basis. (Only Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen, American Nietzsche: A History of an Icon and His Ideas [Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2012], 4–20, pursues a similar approach.) After an insightful first chapter on the historical reception of the Emerson-Nietzsche relation, Zavatta proceeds to establish clear points of influence and disagreement between the two thinkers on the basis of Nietzsche's written responses to Emerson's ideas, especially the marks and marginalia left on his personal copies of Emerson's writings.
Another of Zavatta's aims is to trace the origin of key Nietzschean themes back to Emerson. Indeed, while remaining sensitive to other influential figures for Nietzsche (such as Schopenhauer and von Hartmann), Zavatta convincingly demonstrates Emerson's exceptional influence. In chapter 2, she credibly argues that Nietzsche's understanding of freedom as agency emerged from his engagement with Emerson's thoughts on fate and freedom (25). In chapter 3, she offers a compelling account of the Nietzschean "free spirit" as a version of Emerson's experimental "intellectual nomad" (91). In the fourth chapter, she also traces Nietzsche's critique of pity to Emerson's claim that benevolent actions communicate the "implicit subordination" of the individual receiving the kindness (118). Her findings—these are just a few noteworthy ones—are striking. [End Page 520]
Additionally, Zavatta hopes to "disentangle … interpretative knots in Nietzsche's philosophy" (xv) with Emerson's help. Nietzsche's account of self-cultivation is her central focus, and each interpretative level she explores—for example, framing Nietzsche's "ethical model" as a virtue-ethical variety of "parametric universalism" (71) with Emersonian selfreliance as its core—shows the depth of Nietzsche's debt to Emerson.
Though Zavatta's argument is often thought provoking, some interpretative knots remain tangled. On several occasions, she flags Emerson's pronounced influence on ideas from Nietzsche's middle period. At other times, however, she insists on Emerson's influence on Nietzsche's thought more generally. A specialist may wonder whether certain claims regarding Emerson's influence ought to be limited to early and middle Nietzsche or applied to late Nietzsche only after more substantial argument.
In general, Zavatta's interpretation of Nietzsche is more successful when she limits the scope of her claims and less successful when she does not. One of Zavatta's less convincing conjectures presents Emersonian self-reliance as Nietzsche's "sole universal value" (112), a value he identifies and develops (under the influence of Emerson) in the early and middle works and maintains in his later thought (170–71). There are two main issues with Zavatta's argument for this claim. First, though she presents Emersonian self-reliance as Nietzsche's highest value (104), she does not engage sufficiently with alternative possibilities. It is surprising, for example, that she does not argue against power as Nietzsche's standard of value, given the prevalence of this view in contemporary Nietzsche scholarship (John Richardson, Nietzsche's System [New York: Oxford University Press, 1996]; Bernard Reginster, The Affirmation of Life [Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006]) and the fact that she explicitly contrasts her view to that of Paul Katsafanas (Agency and the Foundations of Ethics [New York: Oxford University Press, 2013]), who makes such a claim (71). Second, given the central role that power occupies in Nietzsche's later works—in The Antichrist, he calls "good" anything that "augments the feeling of power, the will to power, power itself, in man" (§2)—it would have made sense for Zavatta to consider a developmental account, according to which self-reliance is the highest value in...