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Friedrich Nietzsche (1844 - 1900)

Lifespan: 1844 - 1900

Related: Dionysian and Appolonian - nihilism - continental philosophy - Germany - theory

Friedrich Nietzsche

Quote: Woman is not yet capable of friendship: women are still cats and birds. Or, at best, cows. -- Friedrich Nietzsche in Thus Spake Zarathustra

Nietzsche's influence on continental philosophy increased dramatically after the second World War, especially among the French intellectual Left and post-structuralists. Jacques Derrida, Jean-Luc Nancy, and Michel Foucault all owe a heavy debt to Nietzsche. Gilles Deleuze and Pierre Klossowski wrote monographs drawing new attention to his work, and a 1972 conference at Cérisy-la-Salle ranks as the most important event in France for a generation's reception of Nietzsche. [Aug 2006]

According to John Carey in The Intellectuals and the Masses (1992), Nietzsche is one of the earliest products of mass culture, because it created him "as its antagonist." The immense popularity of his ideas among early twentieth-century intellectuals suggests the panic that the threat of the masses aroused. W. B. Yeats recommended Nietzsche as "a counteractive to the spread of democratic vulgarity".

Commenting on the common man: "Many too many are born, and they hang on their branches much too long. I wish a storm would come and shake all this rottenness and wormeatenness from the tree." -- Friedrich Nietzsche in Thus Spake Zarathustra

Commenting on the common man: "A declaration of war on the masses by Higher Men is needed!...Everything that makes soft and effeminate, that serves the end of the People or the Feminine, works in favor of Universal Suffrage, i.e. the domination of the Inferior Men." -- Nietzsche, The Will to Power, section 861, trans. Walter Kaufmann

Key text: The Birth of Tragedy (1872) - The Gay Science (1882)


Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (October 15, 1844 – August 25, 1900), a German philologist and philosopher, produced critiques of contemporary culture, religion, and philosophy centered around a basic question regarding the positive and negative attitudes toward life of various systems of morality. Beyond the unique themes dealt with in his works, Nietzsche's powerful style and subtle approach are distinguishing features of his writings. Although largely overlooked during his short yet astonishingly productive working life, which ended with a mental collapse at the age of 44, Nietzsche received recognition during the second half of the 20th century as a highly significant figure in modern philosophy. His influence was particularly noted throughout the 20th century by many existentialist, phenomenological, post-structural, and postmodern philosophers. -- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Friedrich_Nietzsche [Aug 2004]

Criticism of Nietzsche

Then there are those literary intellectuals who, despite a deep immersion in much of that twentieth century culture on which Nietzsche's influence has been most decisive, persist in regarding him as overrated and unimportant. Such was the often stated view of the late Philip Toynbee, for many years leading book critic for the 'Observer'. The Oxford professor John Carey, leading book critic for the 'Sunday Times', wrote a vitriolic attack on Nietzsche in his book The Intellectuals and the Masses --http://www.mith.demon.co.uk/nietintr.htm [May 2006]

Will to power [...]

Every human action, according to Nietzsche, is born of a basic instinct to exercise one's own power in some way. Gift-giving, love, praise, or harmful acts such as physical violence, carrying tales, etc. all stem from the same unconscious motive: to exert the will. The theory of the will to power is not limited to the psychology of human beings. Instead, it is the essential nature of the living universe, manifest in all things. Growth, survival, dominance in business or physical competition, all are seen as elements of this will. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Friedrich_Nietzsche [2004]

Sade as forerunner of Nietzsche

Another way the more adventurous reader might deal with Sade is to see him as the principal forerunner of modernism, a claim usually made for Nietzsche. He created a revolutionary and indeed sadistic new relationship between the reader and the author that forgoes the pleasure principle of traditional narrative and deals instead with insult, alienation and boredom. One of the most maddening and most modern -- if not postmodern -- aspects of Sade's writing is that he is programmed himself to foil most methods of decoding and typification. He never lets us know his true intent; there is no way of knowing whether he is writing on a level of subversive irony, whether he takes his wacky anarchist ideas seriously or whether they’re incited by his buffoonish exhibitionism. -- Francine du Plessix Gray in Salon.com


Key text: The Birth of Tragedy (1872)

  • On Nietzsche - Georges Bataille [Amazon US]
    [...] Bataille is in some sense writing "on Nietzsche", but more/instead of that he is using Nietzsche's work to explore the dynamics of communication and the limits of language, to question at a very fundamental level whether communication is even possible and if so how it takes place. In this exploration, of course, pain, suffering, loss, lack, desire, etc. all come into play, as they must since this is a work of Bataille's. But to speak of this pain as "sadistic" might be misleading... for (to essentialize perhaps too much) Bataille's "argument" centers more on what the individual must do to itself, its own subjectivity, in order to even approach community. When one inflicts pain on oneself, is that sadism? Masochism? The intense introspectivity of this work, much in tune with Nietzsche's, opens the door for the destruction of these very types of subject/object relationships, perhaps even to the point of obliterating the categories altogether. So despite the biographical and stylistic quirks of the author, which some might find troubling, others amusing, others entirely inconsequential, and yet others absolutely essential to the questions at hand (a la F.N.), ON NIETZSCHE is quite a provoking work if any of the issues mentioned are of concern. --Ilya Wick for amazon.com

  • Nietzsche and the Vicious Circle - Pierre Klossowski [Amazon US]
    Long recognized as a masterpiece of Nietzsche scholarship, Nietzsche and the Vicious Circle is made available here for the first time in English. Taking a structuralist approach to the relation between Nietzsche's thought and his life, Pierre Klossowski emphasizes the centrality of the notion of Eternal Return (a cyclical notion of time and history) for understanding Nietzsche's propensities for self-denial, self-refutation, and self-consumption. Nietzsche's ideas did not stem from personal pathology, according to Klossowski. Rather, Nietzsche made a pathological use of his best ideas, anchoring them in his own fluctuating bodily and mental conditions. Thus Nietzsche's belief that questions of truth and morality are at base questions of power and fitness resonates dynamically and intellectually with his alternating lucidity and delirium.

  • Nietzsche and Philosophy - Gilles Deleuze [Amazon US]
    Gilles Deleuze demonstrates how Nietzsche initiated a new mode of philosophical thinking. First published in 1962, this landmark book is one of the first to dispute the deep-seated assumption that dialectics provides the only possible basis for radical thought.
    This is a classic, bitterly controversial study. Along with Klossowski's writings, it almost singlehandedly revolutionized Nietzsche studies in the early 1960s. -- In One Ear Out Your Mother for amazon.com [...]

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