- Historischer und kritischer Kommentar zu Friedrich Nietzsches Werken, vol 1/2 by Barbara Neymeyr
Berlin: De Gruyter, 2020. xxvi + 652 pp. ISBN: 978-3-11-028682-3. Hardcover, €69.95.
The latest volume in the massive ongoing scholarly project that is the Historischer und kritischer Kommentar zu Friedrich Nietzsches Werken (in which, to date, six have already been published) is a commentary by Barbara Neymeyr on Nietzsche’s UM, or at least the first two, “David Strauss, the Confessor and Writer” and “On the Uses and Disadvantages of History for Life.” (The remaining two “Untimelies,” on Schopenhauer and Wagner, will appear in volume NK, 1/4; NK, 1/1 on BT and NK, 1/3, a slim volume dedicated to TL, have already appeared in 2012 and 2016, respectively.) [End Page 296]
In several respects this commentary on the first two “Untimelies” could not, in contradistinction to Nietzsche’s ironic (or not-so-ironic) title, be more timely, inasmuch as these essays are often (and unjustly) overlooked, even though recent scholarship over the past few years suggests this situation is changing (see, for instance, Shilo Brooks, Nietzsche’s Culture War: The Unity of the Untimely Meditations [Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018], and Jeffrey Church, Nietzsche’s Unfashionable Observations [Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2019], in the Edinburgh Critical Guides to Nietzsche series). Not the least of the reasons for these essays’ neglect is the amount of contextual knowledge required to make sense of what Nietzsche is trying to do in them, and in this regard the NK series is uniquely positioned to aid the reader of the original German text. It can do this by providing an introductory overview or Überblickskommentar of each essay, followed by an exhaustive series of notes on individual points in the form of a Stellenkommentar. Without this contextualization, it will be unclear to many why, for instance, Nietzsche chose David Friedrich Strauß as the subject for his first essay.
Thanks in good measure to the work of Frederick C. Beiser, however, who has recently published an intellectual biography of Strauß that positions him in the history of ideas as the “father of unbelief ” (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020), there is renewed interest in this figure and his significance in the history of unbelief. Nietzsche had read Strauß’s Das Leben Jesu für das deutsche Volk bearbeitet (the 1864 iteration of Das Leben Jesu, kritisch bearbeitet published in 1835–36) in the summer vacation of 1865, but the work that aroused Nietzsche’s ire in the first UM was Der alte und der neue Glaube: Ein Bekenntniß (1872) (15). As well as supporting Wagner in his feud with Strauß (10–11), among the multiple motivations for Nietzsche’s choice of Strauß as his polemical target must surely have been the tamed or domesticated version of unbelief proposed by Strauß, as opposed to the agonizing cry that would later burst forth from the mouth of the madman in Nietzsche’s GS 125, “God is dead!” In the era of the spread of COVID-19, the closure of churches, and the challenge to faith of a global pandemic, Nietzsche’s attack on the anodyne atheism of the likes of Strauß looks remarkably apposite.
Then again, Nietzsche’s essay on histor(iograph)y, the subject of Anthony K. Jensen’s An Interpretation of Nietzsche’s On the Uses and Disadvantage of History for Life (London: Routledge, 2016), speaks directly to the debate over the purpose of scholarship—and more broadly and even more urgently, the role of education—in our own times. While Nietzsche [End Page 297] most likely had at the back of his mind Schiller’s inaugural lecture at the University of Jena in 1789, Was heißt und zu welchem Ende studiert man Universalgeschichte (439), his history essay also engages with the thesis of his then colleague at Basel Jacob Burckhardt, that history was “a terrible continuum [. . .] that had to be given a shape [Bild...