- The New Cambridge Companion to Nietzsche ed. by Tom Stern
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019. xv + 447 pp. ISBN: 978-1-107-16136-8, 978-1-316-61386. Hardback, $94.99; paper, $34.99.
Any companion will take on different features over the course of a long trip (cheerful, informative, interesting, grating, sullen, or dull), though very often it is one’s own moods that are to blame if things go badly. Similarly, whether the companion Tom Stern has assembled will find favor will depend on the moods of the one being companioned.
If one is interested in gaining more thorough knowledge of Nietzsche’s own context, there are plenty of instructive discussions here. Andreas Urs Sommer, in “What Nietzsche Did and Did Not Read,” points out that for all of Nietzsche’s admonishments that we should learn from observation, “reading is in fact the foundation of his thought” (30). Sommer demonstrates that significant portions of Nietzsche’s knowledge of historical philosophical texts were gained from Kuno Fischer’s history of philosophy. (Indeed, apart from Schopenhauer and Plato, is it clear how many primary philosophical texts Nietzsche actually read?) Sommer’s chapter underscores the importance of not just reading Nietzsche’s texts but also understanding what texts he was in fact reading, responding to, and lifting from. (And it is admittedly gratifying to see Nietzsche caught out in his own scholarly shortcuts.) James Porter, in “Nietzsche’s Untimely Antiquity,” charts the many complicated attractions and repulsions in Nietzsche’s work as a philologist. Nietzsche studied the ancients quite carefully, of course, drawing from them and castigating them, while at the same time making explicit the presuppositions that philologists bring to their work. But in the end our assumptions about the ancients say much more about us than about them: “our task is to live with the several pasts that are within us—those that we construct and those that shape us in turn” (65). Nietzsche scholars, Porter observes, should keep in mind the same lesson about their studies. [End Page 96] Mark Berry’s “Nietzsche and Wagner” delivers multiple insights surrounding the pair’s troubled relationship with interesting conjectures about how several Wagnerian characters embody figures in a shared philosophical context (Zarathustra, for example, standing close to Siegmund, the father of Siegfried). Raymond Geuss, in “Nietzsche’s Germans,” provides a fascinating ramble through the vexed territory of what it really meant to be “German” in the late nineteenth century, and how the various overtones of that question echo in Nietzsche’s provocative claims about belonging to groups, tribes, and nations.
Three chapters provide assessments of the distance between Nietzsche’s questions and our own presuppositions about disciplines of inquiry. Anthony K. Jensen’s “Nietzsche and the Truth of History” reminds us how strange Nietzsche’s approach to history is: Nietzsche “was well read in the histories of morality of the day. But whereas those books offered dates, individuals, specific geographic locations, and documented evidence, Nietzsche offers an alleged ‘priestly caste,’ ‘slaves,’ ‘Jews,’ a few dodgy etymologies, and a set of personal psychological diagnoses like ressentiment to explain their group behaviors” (260). This is an important point that is not sufficiently acknowledged by scholars: Nietzsche was, by our lights, a thoroughly incompetent historian. But Jensen artfully leverages this incompetence into the insight that (echoing James Porter’s chapter) Nietzsche’s primary focus is not on historical truth per se, but on our own efforts at historical interpretation, and what they tell us about our own cultural moment and the values we carry with us into the archives. Similarly, Christian J. Emden’s “Nietzsche, Truth, and Naturalism” illuminates the tension between Nietzsche’s efforts to unsettle or deflate our epistemic capacities while at the same time giving us the truths about them—asking, in Nietzsche’s own formulation, “To what extent can truth endure incorporation?” (GS 110). It is clear that, whatever Nietzsche was up to, it was not merely explanation through naturalization; rather, he was employing naturalization to teach us something about the proper limits of theory and the varying values of truth. In a related vein, Sebastian...