display | more...

Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, a extraordinarily provoking existentialist. At first sight, most either love his ideas or hate and even fear them. Fear that he may be right, or fear that people will believe him. People who love him say that he should be read, and people who do not like him at all say that he should be read (of course, not all of them). I agree with those who say he should be read, but when you read his works, be careful! When you read them, and love them, hate them, laugh at them, there are two things that you must remember that are most important which Nietzsche says himself. The first is to read him carefully. Nietzsche asks that his readers read slowly and carefully. This is so you do not become another getting the wrong idea about him--many try to prove him wrong, but when they do so they do not even have the courtesy to insult him on his actual work. You cannot argue him wrong when you do not understand what he was actually saying. The second warning is, "A pupil repays his teacher poorly if he remains always the pupil". If you like him, and truly seek to learn what he has had to say, it has all be worthless if you do not put what has been taught to some use. Nietzsche is dead now, its been over a hundred years since he lived last. He is not coming back. Now the torch has been passed to those who read his work.

Here I will try and discuss the importance of these warnings. If you want to read his work, than I suggest starting by reading all of it before reading many interpretations. A good place to start is with "THE PORTABLE NIETZSCHE" (the title is in caps, I didn't put it like that), edited and translated by Walter Kaufmann. Kaufmann is an honest translator, and a careful one.

Nietzsche writes some clever aphorisms that just about everyone can appreciate, there is that, and than there are his blasphemies. He is often blasphemous, and bold about it. This is a fast turn off. He is profane in his ideas, but it is necessary. It is like sex education. Educators and parents educate about sex because it is necessary, they would probably rather have children not know about it for a long time, but there comes a time when saying that babies come from a stork who drops them off at doorsteps will not suffice. This is how it is with some of our popular cultural beliefs; they are lies to hide us from a profane world that is reality. If you are not ready to cope with the unpleasantness of the world we live in, then Nietzsche is not for you, much like pornography is not for those who have yet to accept that we are not carried into the world by storks. Some of his writing is profane philosophy, some is not. Whether or not it is does not determine if it is right or wrong. Keats said that "Truth is beauty, and beauty is truth". Nietzsche has proved him wrong, and has showed us that truth is not always pleasant. Nietzsche's work is plentiful in unpleasant truths. To read him right, you must be able to accept that.

An example of one such thing from Nietzsche was the following statement, which outraged so many people: Not all men are created equal. This has resulted in many people hating him, and comparing him to Hitler who said the same thing. In fact, many rush to compare him to Hitler and end up talking more about Hitler than Nietzsche by first saying that they had a similar statement, and then going to insult Nietzsche for Hitler's deeds, as if saying similar statements made them the same people. It is obvious why this is statement that both Hitler and Nietzsche said can be offensive. It can seem an unpleasant truth, but it is correct. All men are not the equal of Einstein in science but may be his superior in sports. Some have stressed that we are diverse, and we should accept our individuality, how can we then insist that we are all equal? We all have our strengths and weaknesses, we cannot acknowledge that and then say that we are all equal. Nietzsche was not like Hitler, and even proved that in letters to his sister (which you can read for yourself) where he said that he wanted nothing to do with anti-Semites. When talking about the anti-Semite with his sister, he said that the anti-Semite would like to associate with his (Nietzsche's) name all to well. Nietzsche would not of liked Hitler.

Sometimes Nietzsche is extremely provoking and interesting. This has had the effect of people rushing through in their excitement and missing the point. Even people who like him miss his point.

It is frustrating sometimes, but there is no other way to read Nietzsche but slowly.

Now on to repaying the teacher by not staying a pupil. This part is for those who are interested in Nietzsche but think that they cannot continue on their own. Two things usually happen with those who like Nietzsche after they finish studying most of his work. The first and probably most common is they put the books on the shelf and forget about it rather quickly. The second thing is they will keep reading Nietzsche in the form of interpretations by people publishing books. Not that there is anything wrong with the second thing, by itself, it is fine. However, if you want to have any value at all to come from your study you have to stop being the apprentice and start to be the master.

And don't expect me or anyone else to tell you how to do that--to each his own. I don't feel it needs an explanation. It is like studying a sport, basketball, for example. You can only study so much before it is time to get to work yourself. When you first shoot the basketball you will miss a lot. You can even learn a lot from watching more experienced players play the game, but you won't get better from only watching in the end, you'll have to start playing for yourself if you wish to continue.

Perhaps a quote from the man himself on reading his own works will serve to illuminate the way to read Nietzsche:

To be sure, one thing is necessary above all if one is to practice reading as an art in this way, something that has been unlearned most thoroughly nowadays--and therefore it will be some time before my writings are "readable"--something for which one has almost to be a cow and in any case not a "modern man": rumination. (Nietzsche, Friedrich. "Nietzsche's Preface" On the Genealogy of Morals. Trans. Walter Kaufmann. Random House, Inc., Toronto: 1969.)

Nietzsche is not writing to be commonly understood, this much is clear. This is because -- as he goes on to describe in On the Genealogy of Morals -- language has "fundamental errors of reason... petrified in it" (Nietzsche 45). His point is that language is a way of schematizing the chaos that actually constitutes the world. The subject-object relationship, not in an existential sense -- allow me here to digress and say that Nietzsche is not an existentialist, there is certainly a link between the ideas but existentialism is not compatible with Nietzsche's world of appearances -- but rather in the purely grammatical sense. Nietzsche is a philologist, he is interested in words. He finds the problem that every sentence presupposes that "all effects are conditioned by something that causes effects, by a 'subject'" (Nietzsche 45).

Reading Nietzsche, then, demands a critical eye -- he must be taken at his word. He contradicts himself throughout his writings, but a careful examination of his individual sentences will yield a clearer picture of his thoughts. His text cannot be treated lightly, because the actual line of his thought is concealed by the text -- this is the way in which he circumvents the paradox of grammar that he presents.

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.