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A couple days ago I asked whether I should blog my way through The Portable Nietzsche or Bertrand Russell’s A History of Western Philosophy. Only four people responded (clearly I am a powerhouse blogger and my audience is legion), and they were evenly divided on the topic. But the half of my respondents (and by half, I mean two) who voted for Nietzsche were the ones who happened to be philosophy majors, so I gave greater weight to their ballots. And besides, I’ve been eager to dig into Nietzsche myself. So. Nietzsche it is.
The introduction by translator and renowned Nietzsche scholar Walter Kaufmann already has me pretty excited. In this introduction, he takes great pains to emphasize that Nietzsche was a brilliant prose stylist as well as a philosopher, and that he was a much more nuanced character than the popular caricature gives him credit for. “Almost as different from his popular caricatures,” Kaufmann writes, “as a character in Shakespeare, or more likely in Dostoevski, is from the comic strip version of Superman.”
Nietzsche, he writes, was not a dour anti-Semite but a man with a keen sense of both justice and humor, whose messy estrangement from Richard Wagner was largely motivated by the composer’s hypocrisy and anti-Semitic views. Moreover, Kaufmann’s characterization of Nietzsche’s philosophy is fascinating to me: he describes it as a marriage of enlightenment rationalism, post-enlightenment romantic passion, and psychological insight. He also argues that Nietzsche is the first truly post-religious philosopher, rejecting both Christianity and the eastern-influenced metaphysics of Hegel and Schopenhauer.
All of this strikes a chord—or, rather, I guess I’m expecting it to strike a chord. And with that in mind, I think I’m taking the right approach in reading my way through this whole collection, cover to cover, rather than picking and choosing individual works. Kaufmann describes them all as chapters of a single, larger project, and suggests that trying to climb the mountain is well worth your time.
“What one gets out of Nietzsche may be vaguely proportionate to the sustained attention one accords him,” he writes. And later: “[Nietzsche] challenges the reader not so much to agree or disagree as to grow.”
This is going to be fun. I’m pumped.