Academic journal article German Quarterly

Nietzsche: Attempt at a Mythology

Academic journal article German Quarterly

Nietzsche: Attempt at a Mythology

Article excerpt

Bertram, Ernst. Nietzsche: Attempt at a Mythology. Trans, and with an introduction by Robert E. Norton. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2009. 382 pp. S35.00 hardcover.

Ernst Bertram's book, first published in 1918, was one of the intellectual bestsellers that the circle around Stefan George (1868-1933) produced (alongside, e.g., Gundolf 's Goethe and Kantorowicz's Friedrich IT). It was hailed by figures as diverse as Thomas Mann, Martin Heidegger and Hermann Hesse as the finest book on Nietzsche written thus far. Robert E. Norton joins their praise in calling it a "powerful, often compelling, portrait" and labels it a "strikingly contemporary" precursor of post-structuralist modes of reading. "Bertram's method is idiosyncratic [...], but it was not unreasonable, and it had a point," he says. Norton implicitly acknowledges that George - whose opinion of Nietzsche was at best ambivalent - was ready to sponsor books that diverged from his own viewpoint. Bertram was a Lutheran, interested in music and prone to an insular view of Germany, whereas George was profoundly Catholic, superficially unmusical and the advocate of a pan-occidental Germany. In his virtuosic introduction, Norton exemplarily shows that depictions of Bertram's book as the template for fascism's appropriation of Nietzsche were based on basic errors: in actual fact, the book is thoroughly researched (a feature on which, Norton emphasizes, George insisted) and sources are quoted from standard editions (albeit without exact references; Norton provides them now in his valuable Notes); Bertram is aware of the fragmentary nature of Nietzsche's philosophy and situates every quote in its proper context.

It must be added that Norton's outright dismissal of alleged affinities between Ernst Bertram - the person - and National Socialism is somewhat surprising. In his book Secret Germany (2002), Norton states that it was George who made National Socialism "feasible." Now, he seems ready to exculpate Bertram, who held university appointments in philosophy throughout the entire Third Reich, as a run-of-the-mill patriot. The imbalance is striking, and it will be interesting to re-evaluate George in light of books such as Bertram's. …

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