What Nietzsche Really Said

Article excerpt

What Nietzsche Really Said. By Robert C. Solomon and Kathleen M. Higgins. New York: Schocken, 2000. xviii + 263 pp. $23.00 (cloth).

Given Friedrich Nietzsche's far-reaching influence on contemporary culture, the paucity of attention paid his actual writings cries out for redress. Indeed, as Solomon and Higgins point out, where critics attend to Nietzsche's writings at all, his unpublished notes and essays have claimed the preponderance of their attention in many circles. This book constitutes an especially timely meditation, then, on the import of Nietzsche's philosophy, and Solomon and Higgins offer a readable overview of what Nietzsche wrote and published (with only occasional side glances at unpublished material).

In order to introduce Nietzsche to a general readership, the authors devote a first chapter to rebutting overstated rumors. Nietzsche was not virulently anti-Jewish, not a Nazi or misogynist, not insane (during his writing years), and so on. They use these opening sections gently to begin their portrait of what Nietzsche actually was up to. Next, Solomon and Higgins summarize Nietzsche's published works in the order in which they appeared. They propose heuristic advice for beginning readers of Nietzsche: is he speaking straightforwardly, or is he engaging in parody, mockery, hyperbole, or other figurative discourse? What is Nietzsche commending, and what does he condemn? They reserve the most detailed treatment for the early Birth of Tragedy and Untimely Meditations, but touch on each of Nietzsche's publications. They (consistently) relegate The Will to Power to a dismissive paragraph-a decision that fits their low regard for Nietzsche's Nachlass, but which may frustrate readers who had hoped this introduction would engage the material that recent commentators have found especially provocative. The authors summarize Nietzsche's perspectives on religion and morality in the next two chapters, exploring the texture of Nietzsche's spirituality and anti-spirituality, and examining the basis for his reputation as an antagonist of morality. They then give lists of Nietzsche's heroes and villains, lists that overlap at several points: Socrates, Wagner, Kant, and Schopenhauer make both lists, and Luther and Darwin are runners-up. …

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