Nietzsche: An Approach

Nietzsche: An Approach

Nietzsche: An Approach

Nietzsche: An Approach

Synopsis

Janko Lavrin's influential biography of Friedrich Nietzsche, originally published in 1948, analyses the bond between Nietzsche's personal fate on the one hand and the trend of his thought on the other, set against the background of contemporary crisis typical of mankind in general.

Excerpt

In the history of modern European thought Friedrich Nietzsche occupies one of the most provocative and at the same time paradoxical positions: provocative, because he challenged all our traditional ideas, beliefs and values; paradoxical, because his work has proved both misleading and yet highly stimulating on account of its very inconsistencies and contradictions. His personal fate itself was a paradox, the dramatic character of which was increased by the fact that after a neglect, lasting throughout the whole of his creative life, Nietzsche suddenly sprang into a vogue that made his name something of an ideological battle-cry all over Europe. And however much he may have been misunderstood by his detractors and even more by his adherents, the passions aroused by his thought helped to clear the atmosphere, the mental and moral climate of our age, let alone his challenge to the whole of our civilization.

Nietzsche emerged at the dead end of our epoch—an epoch full of inner and external crises, often camouflaged in such a manner as to make the disruptive processes working behind it all appear as little disturbing as possible. But he was one of those who refused to be deluded. While one facet of his thought was visionary and prophetic, the other was intensely critical and full of ominous warnings. As a critic he gave us perhaps the most merciless diagnosis of our age; yet, as a prophet, he offered to his contemporaries an ideal which proved in the end as unacceptable and impossible in practice as it was daring in theory. His own reactions against the epoch in which he lived were the more violent for the very reason that he, too, was one of its victims, but a victim who would not acquiesce. The war he waged against it was thus fought on two fronts—one of them being purely personal, while the other touched upon issues that went far beyond any personal considerations. His strategy, always passionate and erratic, was further complicated by his poor state of health, which made him mobilize all his resources in ratio to his physical deterioration. In the long run the conflict proved so onerous that his mental collapse at the beginning of 1889—some eleven years before his physical death—came hardly as a surprise.

It would be unjust, however, to let Nietzsche’s subsequent insanity impair our judgment of the actual character and value of his thought. His catastrophe itself was partly due to the fact that he took his mental and cultural preoccupations most seriously. The whole of his life can be described as the tragedy of a man who fought against both his epoch and his personal fate with an intensity of purpose which made such an end almost inevitable. Compelled to ‘philosophize with a hammer’ and to ‘write in blood’, he always tested his thought on himself, regardless of the price he had to pay for such a method. The word philosophy thus meant to him not abstract reasoning but living experience. Smooth systems were of no use to him, and so he did not bother about them. ‘I am not narrow-minded enough for a . . .

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