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  • Nietzsche's Search for Philosophy: On the Middle Writings by Keith Ansell-Pearson
  • Antoine Panaïoti
Keith Ansell-Pearson. Nietzsche's Search for Philosophy: On the Middle Writings. London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2018. Pp. xii + 181. Cloth, £70.00.

Keith Ansell-Pearson's latest book on Nietzsche is part of a broader genre in Nietzsche scholarship, which emerged roughly in the early 2000s and has been developing at a steadily accelerating pace since then. Call this the "middle period genre." Scholars whose work falls under this banner (e.g. Ruth Abbey, Paul Franco, Robert Pippin, and Michael Ure) tend to be historically trained "close readers" with strong German and a good understanding of the intricacies of Nietzsche's reception on the Old Continent (in stark contrast to the philologically unscrupulous, Analytic-chauvinist "Nietzschean philosopher" now ascendant in the field). What most fundamentally unites them, however, is a shared sense that the three books Nietzsche wrote roughly in the middle of his career deserve more attention than they have gotten so far. Human, All Too Human (1878–80), Dawn (1881), and The Gay Science (1882), they note, tend to be either neglected altogether or treated as mere preludes to Nietzsche's so-called mature works. But the primary impetus behind the middle period genre is not just of the bland "filling a gap in scholarship" variety; the central contention, rather, is that there are valuable things to learn from exploring Nietzsche's middle works in their own right as self-standing philosophical texts.

There are of course as many (more or less sensible) accounts of what exactly these valuable things may be as there are books devoted to the "middle Nietzsche." Ansell-Pearson, for his part, thinks the main benefits to be gained from exploring Nietzsche's middle writings concern Nietzsche's reflections on the nature of philosophy and his practice of a particular form of philosophy. In his estimation, "Nietzsche's search for philosophy attains some of its richest moments and insights in his middle writings" (14). Focusing on these, he claims, promises to deliver a new "appreciation of Nietzsche's thought, including its relation to philosophy and the history of philosophy" (3). Ansell-Pearson's middle Nietzsche, then, is concerned not with propounding doctrines (e.g. "everything eternally recurs"; "there are no facts, only interpretations"; "the world is Will to Power"), but rather with attempting, in a spirit of open-ended experimentalism, to figure out what it is that philosophy can do to and for a modern thinker who practices it sensitively and intelligently. What the middle Nietzsche seeks, in short, is what Pierre Hadot has called philosophy as a "way of life" (Exercices spirituels et philosophie antique, 3rd ed. [Paris: Albin Michel, 2003]), in contrast to the technical, theoretical, and strictly cognitive enterprise it has become as a result of its late institutionalization. Ansell-Pearson's central thesis, in this connection, is that between the years 1878 and 1882 Nietzsche found his way to "an ethos of Epicurean enlightenment" (3), namely a cheerful approach to the "study of nature" (9) designed to combat late modern disenchantment and open up new, experimental vistas in moral thought and practice.

Setting aside a few minor irritants—most notably, occasional overreliance on an idea or theme imported from Nietzsche's late writings, which is anachronistically treated as though it shows what Nietzsche was thinking some four to eight years earlier (which arguably violates the principles of the middle period genre)—Nietzsche's Search for Philosophy is an outstanding work of scholarship on the development of Nietzsche's thinking during the crucially formative period that preceded the composition of Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1883–85). Particularly commendable is Ansell-Pearson's ability to show that while the middle works display an overall unity of concern (in sum: how to find meaning and value in life after the demise of religious and metaphysical fictions in the context of late European modernity), there are also important discontinuities in Nietzsche's thinking over the course of this period, and that this occurs even within what has come down to us as a single work, namely Human, All Too Human's 1887 edition (in which Nietzsche repackaged...


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