My rating: 5 of 5 stars
“I find it difficult to write a review of a philosophical work; difficult because it is initially put upon the reviewer to agree or disagree with an idea, but one must first summarize–and by doing that, one has already levied judgment.” -me
I wrote that passage on the back page of my copy of this text. The page number I referenced before writing this thought is page 326, which contains the quote from Ecce Homo (1900): “I have a terrible fear that one day I will be pronounced holy: you will guess why I publish this book before; it shall prevent people from doing mischief with me” (emphasis original). Walter Kaufmann, the translator, notes that Ecce Homo was not published until 1908, eight years after Friedrich Nietzsche’s death; eight years after Peter Gast proclaimed at the funeral of his friend: “Holy be thy name to all coming generations” (326). I find this first quote significant for many reasons, and it is the one I will deal with during the entirety of this review.
First, it is important to note what I am reading. This text is one of Nietzsche’s final works. In fact, as the note states, it was published posthumously–not the classical way of familiarizing oneself with a great philosopher, of this I am aware. My interest with Nietzsche began long ago through references by Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, and Jasbir Puar, but the first actual text of his that I encountered was: A Nietzsche Reader. This text is organized thematically, and is a good primer for Nietzsche’s writing. That being noted, I began this text with the later Ecce Homo, not the earlier On The Genealogy of Morals. The former text contains Nietzsche’s personal account of his own writing; from The Birth of Tragedy (1872) to The Case of Wagner (1888), and with everything else in between. But I was not reading it for that textual investigation; I was reading it because of the “Why I Am” essays.
You may have heard of them (“Why I Am So Wise,” “Why I Am So Clever,” etc.), or maybe you passed them in the bookstore and thought “What a pompous ass this Nietzsche fellow is!” I guess so. But I read them because I thought myself clever as well. Actually, I had made this same statement to two people on New Year’s Day 2013; namely, “I am so wise,” spoken with earnest pride. Then the seed was planted, and I went to the local used bookstore the next day to purchase this text after having seen it there over one month prior.
I think one ought to approach Nietzsche in this manner: with a positive interest and happy conjectures, seeking gainful contemplation. Without that, one may happen upon an unhappy and lonely man writing manifestos for the Third Reich; but if that is the case, then one has read foolishly and done grave mischief to Nietzsche. This is quite specific mischief, and it is settled throughout Ecce Homo. If anything, one should take away from this text Nietzsche’s disgust for the Germans, his absolute abhorrence of nationalism, and his utmost desire to be understood. I shall lift another quotation circa 1900: “let the Germans commit one more immortal blunder in relation to me that will stand in all eternity” (Ecce Homo 324). Wie Stören…
But I digress.
For me, reading Nietzsche isn’t about a grand idea or accumulating argumentative munitions against religion or morality, but about approaching art and life with a new and refreshing understanding. I cannot imagine attempting to decipher exactly what point or lesson or utilitarian application the reader was supposed to infer from Nietzsche’s master/slave morality detailed in On The Genealogy of Morals, but I can apply his thesis on ressentiment to the integration of the tragic figure into popular culture, starting with Arthur Miller’s essay on his own Death of a Salesman (1949), entitled “Tragedy and The Common Man” (written the same year). [Essay forthcoming]. It seems to me that Nietzsche is a referential adviser; not a person to whom one should read, digest and discard; nor an author whom one should carry in one’s back pocket; but, rather, an author one should consider from time to time, if only to contemplate our world from a different angle.
Many will advise not to approach Nietzsche lightly, but to consider him gravely and with steadfast measure. I disagree entirely. Approach Nietzsche when you are up, not down; when you have found happiness, not when you seek it; when you are ready to say YES to life, not when you feel it at its heaviest burden. Nietzsche is someone to be taken lightly; without weightlessness one cannot ascend to, and descend from, the great heights he offers; one cannot comprehend his Zarathustra; and one cannot read him free of mischief. So, with this in mind, you are sure to find answers in the divine human that is yourself, before you find them in the Nietzsche whom so many so desperately and despondently seek.