Paul Bishop and R. H. Stephenson, Friedrich Nietzsche and Weimar Classicism

By Rainer, Ulrike | The Comparatist, May 2006 | Go to article overview

Paul Bishop and R. H. Stephenson, Friedrich Nietzsche and Weimar Classicism


Rainer, Ulrike, The Comparatist


Paul Bishop and R. H. Stephenson, Friedrich Nietzsche and Weimar Classicism Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2005, xi + 281 pp.

It is a great pleasure to read such a thoroughly researched and well-written book. It meticulously traces the critical discussions about the most formative influences on Friedrich Nietzsche's thought and also attempts to clarify how Weimar classicism must be seen as discrete from contemporaneous romanticism. Though the lines between these two artistic movements cannot be drawn rigidly, for there are many instances of overlapping issues and shared concerns, nevertheless, each must be seen as informed by its distinct and distinctive aesthetics. As the authors show, Nietzsche's The Birth of Tragedy and Thus Spake Zarathustra do not merely reflect a purely philosophical continuum informed in large part by Greek philosophy, the idealism of Kant and Hegel, and Schopenhauer, but are heavily indebted to Friedrich Schiller's philosophical writings, most importantly his Aesthetic Letters, and Johann Wolfgang Goethe's poetic and scientific oeuvre. Nietzsche was familiar with both writers' works since his days at Schulpforta, where he was exposed both to the ancient classics and to the two intellectual and creative giants of the previous generation. The authors claim that without the inclusion of Goethe's and Schiller's Kulturkampf ("cultural struggle") against competing artistic movements, our understanding of Nietzsche's philosophical aesthetics is at best incomplete and at worst distorted.

In the chapter on The Birth of Tragedy the authors show how frequent direct quotes and passing references to Goethe and Schiller are: "Nietzsche's discussion of Apollo in particular is saturated with Schillerian terminology" (29), and "[he] makes sustained reference throughout to Faust" (35). Out of the immersion in Schiller's dialectic and Faust's aesthetic final moment emerges the demand for and possibility of a renewal of art. The new form, however, depends on a new myth and a new music. Ten years later Nietzsche offers his program in Thus Spake Zarathustra. Chapters 2 and 3 of the book give a detailed overview of the compositional framework and the "aesthetic gospel" of this work. And, as in The Birth of Tragedy, where Nietzsche also had analyzed the problem of knowledge in relation to life, "the dialectic between Ernst und Spiel, derived from Goethe and Schiller, ... is related here as in Weimar Classicism to the problem of 'Schein,' both in the sense of the phenomenal world and of the 'Schein des Scheins' ('ein Leben im Unwahren' [i. …

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