Nietzsche’s Long Shadow

For cultural omnivores, 3 Quarks Daily is one of the best blogs around. It is like finding that extraordinary bookstore where every other title sounds like it would be a delicious read.

I found a compelling excerpt there this weekend from Eurozine regarding the still lingering, larger-than-life influence of Nietzsche. The article, What does Nietzsche mean to philosophers today? asks a series of questions of several leading philosophers. The range of responses is what you’d expect from someone of Nietzsche’s stature—all over the map.

I have included two responses to the question, What do you take to be the morally and politically most offensive passages in Nietzsche’s writings? Being the transgressive female that I am, I always cheer whenever a man lambasts the rampant sexism of 19th century giants like Nietzsche and Freud. But I have paired Patton’s harsh assessment with a gentler, kinder take on Nietzsche’s failings by Jan Sokol. The juxtaposition of the two is provocative.

More to come in later postings.

Paul Patton:

Some of his remarks about women are among the most offensive of Nietzsche’s writings. I take these to be indications of the extent to which he was a man of his time who could not see beyond the existing cultural forms of the sexual division of humankind. Like the vast majority of nineteenth century European men, Nietzsche could not divorce female affect, intelligence and corporeal capacities from a supposed “essential’ relation to child-bearing. His views on women are representative of his attitude toward morality and politics in the sense that they are in tension with possibilities otherwise opened up by his historical conception of human nature. For example, at times he recognizes that supposedly natural qualities of women or men are really products of particular social arrangements. We can conclude from this, even if he could not, that these qualities are not natural but open to change. In this domain as in other of his social and political views, he was not able to foresee some of the ways in which the very dynamics of human cultural evolution that he identified could lead us into a very different future.

Jan Sokol:

Nietzsche was a great man and deserves a just assessment. He was solitary, sensitive and extremely deep, perhaps also something of a victim of romanticism. His illnesses and failures must have played a role in his decision to “philosophize with a hammer”. Nietzsche is to be read by mature, discerning people: he provokes, offends and strives to arouse the reader to think for himself. And we cannot hold him responsible for what we know today, but he could not have known. In spite of this, he wrote things, which one reads with horror: about the “too many”, who should be swept away by whirlwinds.

Also, some of his statements about the Jews are disturbing – that cannot be denied. But it is very difficult to find his overall position. It is carefully hidden in the depths of an injured romantic heart, and can be read only between the lines.

4 Replies to “Nietzsche’s Long Shadow”

  1. I feel about Nietzsche what I feel about all the great intellectual provocateurs of history—we’re not supposed to sit comfortably with him. I’m sure that’s not what he’d want, and I’m sure we can’t reject him altogether either.

  2. Your comment inspires me to pronounce the same frustration with all of those big think provocateurs–yes, can’t sit easily with them, but can’t reject them either. Nietzsche’s shadow is so long and all encompassing, I keep coming back to my ambivalence about him. And that coming back has its own rewards. Thanks for your words D.

  3. I have re-read Nietzsche endlessly from the enjoyment of a different voice and the vitality of such endless discoveries.

    What I find odd is the search for the lowest common denominator, not only in regards to Nietzsche, but to other writers, in critics searching for a why he or she should or could be dismissed due to their personal leanings and/or how the work has been interpreted to date.

    Nietzsche’s writings and revelations strike a tone meant to be heard within ourselves and from which resonances, I feel, we discover, disturbed in the best sense with what has been uncovered, what had so far been hidden to a greater or lesser degree.

  4. Dean, an articulate and cogent defense. I too am compelled by him, but also feel strongly about dismantling the edifice of adoration and influence that he and other giants get saddled with, often not of their own doing. I still read him and give air time to what he has to say, but with a measured caution.

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