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BY 4.0 license Open Access Published by De Gruyter May 13, 2022

Nietzsche and Literature

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From the journal Nietzsche-Studien


Nietzsche’s relationship to the literary output of his time and his later influence on it is the theme unifying the two anthologies and the monograph under review. While Nietzsche’s stature among philosophers is now secure and uncontested, his philosophical reception in the early years was delayed and overshadowed by his literary reception: enthusiastically endorsed by writers, he was disparaged as a Dichterphilosoph by academic philosophers. But by aligning Nietzsche with positions in contemporary philosophy, commentators now underappreciate Nietzsche’s literary style(s) and his desire to be seen as one of the great literary stylists and innovators. These studies redress that imbalance. They raise the larger question of what constitutes philosophy and suggest that his philosophizing breaches the divide that some place between the disciplines of philosophy and literature, particularly in an era of great academic specialization. Their goal is to show the importance of literature for Nietzsche, both in his capacity as a reader and as an author, and they approach this question from an interdisciplinary angle, combining aspects of literary science and philosophical history.

  1. Ralph Häfner / Sebastian Kaufmann / Andreas Urs Sommer (eds.), Nietzsches Literaturen. Berlin / Boston: de Gruyter 2019, VIII + 482 pp., ISBN 978-3110586237.

  2. Katharina Grätz / Sebastian Kaufmann (eds.), Nietzsche als Dichter: Lyrik – Poetologie – Rezeption. Berlin / Boston: de Gruyter 2018, X + 498 pp., ISBN 978-3110518887.

  3. Adam Lecznar, Dionysus after Nietzsche: The Birth of Tragedy in Twentieth-Century Literature and Thought. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2020, XIV + 256 pp., ISBN 978-1108482561.

1. In their introduction to Nietzsches Literaturen (2019), the editors Ralph Häfner, Sebastian Kaufmann, and Andreas Urs Sommer proclaim the central importance literature had for Nietzsche and point to the connections between his literary interests and reading habits and his overall philosophical project (2). Even after his transition from philology to philosophy, Nietzsche continued to read works that one would characterize as literary fiction (Belletristik) but also works in natural history, history, religion, and ethnology, as well as tracts on nutrition, travel, or gymnastics. In fact, philosophical works in an academic sense constituted only a marginal share of his overall reading (3).

Equally important and suggestive is how Nietzsche incorporated his literary sources. Contrary to the image he projected in Ecce homo (1888) as foremost a recreational reader (EH, Clever 3), he was in fact an avid reader – though not always systematic – and he scoured texts for material he could incorporate into his work and could use to highlight his unique concerns: he was a “working reader” who was in search of building material to integrate into his own thinking and writing (3). He did not read the works thoroughly but often just skimmed through them, looking out for useful items and commentary. This reading tactic is revealed by the annotations left behind in the books in his library (3).

Many contributions in the two anthologies analyze examples of Nietzsche’s poetic output as well his reading of other canonical poets. The former often goes underexamined in studies of Nietzsche’s writing, since his poems are mostly regarded as diversions and inferior in quality and importance to his prose writings. This approach reinforces the notion that Nietzsche’s importance resides in the prose, suggesting that the poetry cannot convey deeper philosophical convictions through artistic representation. As for Nietzsche’s reception of those who could be considered superior poets – Goethe, Baudelaire, or Leopardi, for example – the contributors show that he engaged in a playful exchange with them and their works, and that this method of appropriation unleashed a form of creativity both respectful of the artwork but original and suggestive on its own terms. Rather than determine the role of Nietzsche’s work within the parameters of an accepted poetic canon, we should appreciate the way he destabilizes it altogether and opens the way for new modes of literary expression and artistic representation, also in the genre of poetry.

In examining his posthumous poem Der Freigeist, Ludger Lütkehaus (Krähengeschrei: Friedrich Nietzsche auf Winterreise) traces how Nietzsche’s poetic version of a “winter journey” follows the subtle themes of “music, love and death” prefigured in Schubert’s musical composition, which help liberate him, in the name of the “free spirit,” from his former mentors Schopenhauer and Wagner (13). Soichoro Itoda concentrates on the poetic cycle Idyllen aus Messina (1882–87) (Nietzsches Idyllen aus Messina: Zu einer neuen kritischen Lektüre). Earlier reception paid little attention to the Idyllen; this changed in 2015 with the publication of Sebastian Kaufmann’s commentary, which led to a critical reconsideration of the poetical cycle (21). Composed in Sicily in 1882, the eight poems of the Idyllen were published separately by Ernst Schmeitzner in spring 1882, and Nietzsche later included six poems in slightly redacted form under the title Lieder des Prinzen Vogelfrei at end of the second edition of Die fröhliche Wissenschaft in 1887.

By the time he composed the Idyllen, Nietzsche had freed himself from the role of Schriftsteller und Dichter he had adopted in his middle-period works. The motifs of freedom and open vistas set the parameters for his future philosophical horizons (24). Though Nietzsche harbored a residual skepticism toward his poetry, including the Idyllen, Itoda sees this reflecting Nietzsche’s general verdict against “literature” and poets and does not see it as a personal indictment of his poetry per se (25). The poems suggest an ideological turn away from the North and an opening toward the Mediterranean South, which coincided with a rejection of Wagnerian aesthetics (28–9). The Sicilian Bellini, not the Wagnerian Parsifal, now became the new model: “In Messina, wo ich die Luft Bellini’s athmete” (Nietzsche to Köselitz, September 16, 1882, no. 307, KSB 6.262).

Nietzsche employed his philological skills to deconstruct the Romantic versions of the idyllic tradition and to find a way towards his own notion of the ancient genre, one uninformed by the subsequent Christian legacy (35). He projected himself into a Greek cosmos where eros would be allowed to develop its destructive power but where the muses could have a taming effect (36). During the period of the Idyllen, Nietzsche had started to undermine “trust in morality” (Vertrauen zur Moral), to reject standard Christian norms and to expose the well-springs of human behavior (39). The Idyllen von Messina expressed Nietzsche’s philosophical reorientation toward a newly reconfigured ancient world.

For Phillip Schwab, Nietzsche’s method of aphoristic writing reflects the open-ended nature of his thinking (“Rück- und vorsichtig lesen”: Nietzsches “aphoristische” Denkform). After trying to define the rather elastic term “aphorism,” even Nietzsche’s “theory of the aphorism,” Schwab argues we can characterize all of Nietzsche’s philosophy as aphoristic, even though, in my opinion, that would be stretching the term far beyond its acceptable limits. While the aphorism does predominate in earlier works and makes a return in the later writings such as Götzen-Dämmerung (1889) (in new form), most of Nietzsche’s extended passages in Zur Genealogie der Moral (1887) and most sections in Jenseits von Gut und Böse (1886), for example, do not display typical aphoristic qualities and do not need to be qualified as such. And even though one might quibble about length being the determining factor of an aphorism, one is left with the question as to what one gains by regarding all his philosophy as a “philosophy of the aphorism.”

As the other contributions in the volume show, Nietzsche made use of multiple styles of literary representation, including poetical forms, and the pithy aphorism was but one of many. There is no need to press his philosophy under the single rubric of “aphorism” to make the larger point that his style of writing was suggestive and undermined philosophy traditionally understood – leaving aside the fact that there are many examples of philosophical speculation before Nietzsche that have taken on literary form. The classic mode of the aphorism was the style Nietzsche adopted most when still under the influence of the French moralists in the early middle period, and it is no coincidence that its usage declines in his later writings when he begins to suspect the origins of the moralist tradition. Schwab’s ambitious reading of what constitutes Nietzsche’s philosophy leads him into a programmatic endorsement of a more “literary” approach to meaning instead of showing how Nietzsche utilized literary representations and figures to convey and suggest new philosophical insights.

Raymond Geuss focuses on Nietzsche’s style of writing, which he compares to the art of successful lecturing (Die Nietzsche-Vorlesung). The value of Nietzsche’s philosophy resides in its ability to leave behind productive associations and residual traces that only later lead to deeper awareness, just as the lecturer implants seeds in his listeners that only bear fruit upon retrospective reflection (89). Geuss criticizes efforts to place Nietzsche within a particular philosophical lineage so that his value resides only in how he responds and contributes to a specific tradition of great philosophical predecessors, such as Kant (95). Kant was in fact of lesser importance to Nietzsche than ancient authors. Nietzsche also rejected the notion that philosophical reflection resides in a single continuum or that philosophy is an uninterrupted conversation encompassing a set series of theses and counter-theses (98). Engaging productively with Nietzsche means opening oneself up to his unconventional mode of philosophical presentation, which leads to ongoing, decentered forms of philosophical inquiry.

In Textisten und Inhaltisten – oder: Was bleibt von Nietzsches Philosophie?, Andreas Urs Sommer critiques efforts to see Nietzsche as a fixed person presenting certain core positions or programmatic insights like the “will to power.” Sommer separates readers of Nietzsche into two camps: those who determine what Nietzsche “is” and who then try to force the rest of his textual content into proving that position (the Inhaltist); and those who treat all of Nietzsche’s texts as equal and forsake any attempt to develop a philosophical position at all (the Textualist) (109). Nietzsche is a philosophical innovator whose style of writing is meant to provoke us to our own thinking and to get us beyond our standard positions (111). It does not allow us to determine any single referential point. In that way, one should not affix Nietzsche to a specific meaning in his texts, but rather his “I” is provisional and just one of many voices he adopts (109).

In the second section of the anthology, titled Nietzsche als Rezipient von Literatur, the articles examine Nietzsche as a reader of literature and what he made of his reading. Duncan Large tracks the influence of English literature on Nietzsche – much less profound than the influence of the French – and he argues that Nietzsche saw himself most of all as a critic of literature (117). English “literature” interested him less than the group of English philosophers, psychologists, natural scientists, and social scientists (i. e., the so-called “English school” or “English psychologists” of the Genealogie) that left strong traces throughout his work (117). Large, however, focuses on British cultural figures and determines (not surprisingly) that Shakespeare leads the pack, with 132 mentions in his work, followed by Byron (63 mentions) and Walter Scott (22 mentions). The Victorian novelist George Eliot (12 mentions), on the other hand, acted more as a convenient foil. Large concludes that Nietzsche used these authors to highlight his individual concerns and did not treat his subjects in the manner of an “objective” literary critic (125).

Paolo D’Iorio writes about his contribution to the efforts to catalogue the works in Nietzsche’s library and the insights he gained from that process (Nietzsches Bibliothek und französische Lektüren). Though this archival work can help to determine what Nietzsche (might have) read, D’Iorio admits it cannot tell us everything: there were many books, for example, that clearly had an impact on him but never made it into his library. Also, the personal collection contains books he bought but may never have consulted. The catalogue can only record the books he owned at a certain point in his life (132). However, D’Iorio suggests that the catalogue can prove useful in giving us data about what Nietzsche was probably reading, and his marginalia might further reveal the level of his engagement. D’Iorio gives two examples from his research: Nietzsche’s background reading during the composition of Also sprach Zarathustra (1883–85) (133–4), and Nietzsche’s reception of Bizet’s Carmen (1875) (135–44), which influenced his late critiques of Wagner.

Henning Hufnagel looks at the influence of Italian literature on Nietzsche and Nietzsche’s own influence on Italian literature (Nietzsche und die italienische Literatur: Von Leopardis Canto notturno und L’Infinito zu D’Annunzios Per la morte di un distruttore). The number of Italian titles in his library is small and almost all are in German translation (150). He read Machiavelli in a French translation and does not seem to have read Italy’s greatest poet, Dante, at all (151). The single Italian writer who figures quite prominently in his work is the Philolog-Poet Giacomo Leopardi (a designation he also gave to Goethe). In 1875, he wrote: “ich halte nur noch Dichter aus, die unter anderm auch Gedanken haben, wie Pindar und Leopardi” (Nachlass 1875, 8[2], KSA 8.128). Hufnagel reveals the overlap in their themes and gives examples of how Nietzsche creatively engaged with his work through a récriture of two Leopardi poems (159). But fascination ultimately ended in rejection and critique – as is often the case with Nietzsche. Later he reads more about Leopardi and concludes that he is an example of a decadent who denigrated the body (167). Along with Schopenhauer and Baudelaire, Leopardi becomes a negative model (169). Hufnagel concludes his piece by looking forward to Gabriele D’Annunzio’s reception of Nietzsche. For the Italian decadent poet, Nietzsche becomes indistinguishable from his Zarathustra (173) and was enlisted in D’Annunzio’s program for Italian cultural rejuvenation (176).

Nietzsche’s interest in Spanish literature is captured in his reception of Cervantes’s classic novel, Don Quixote (1605–15). Francisco Arenas-Dolz (Nietzsche, Don Quijote und Sancho Pansas “tiefsinnige Logik”) criticizes the artificial boundary erected between literature and philosophy, which he sees as a “product of history” (189). Literature is a form of “philosophical experiment,” which allows writers to freely restructure reality in opposition to imposed notions of linear time (189). Don Quixote is an example of one such fascinating work of world literature with philosophical implications, and it inspired thinkers in the nineteenth century to wrestle with its themes. German Romantics, above all, theorized on the text, and Schopenhauer, Schelling, and Richard and Cosima Wagner were among its great admirers. For the Romantics, the work reflected the tragic theme of the single man “who fights to defend his ideals and uses only his imagination as a weapon in the process” (194). Nietzsche followed rather the renegade Romantic Heinrich Heine’s interpretative lead. Heine wrote an introduction to the work where he called it “the greatest satire against humanity’s enthusiasm” (202). Nietzsche saw the work as a satire on misguided idealism (204). He compared the experience of the noble Spaniard with those who believed that an ideal antiquity can be reclaimed – an illusion that the “free spirit” must shed (203). Finally, Nietzsche interpreted the figure of Sancho Panza as a parody of positivism, realism, and common sense (212).

Two pieces deal with Nietzsche’s reception of Goethe. In Nietzsches Goethe-Konstruktionen, Mario Zanucchi follows Nietzsche’s interest in Goethe over three distinct phases. In his youth, Nietzsche is Goethe’s epigone whose early poetic attempts stand under his influence (218–9). In the next stage, Wagner becomes the standard bearer against which Goethe is measured, and the writer plays a significant role in Die Geburt der Tragödie (1872) (221). There, Nietzsche comments on Goethe’s proximity to the un-tragic Euripides and on his failure to grasp “the tragic;” this was a critical position that remained a constant throughout his writings. The final phase lasted from the years after his break with Wagner in 1878 until his late work (225). Goethe now became the anti-Wagner and an example of the self-affirmative type. Whereas Goethe represented “Überfluss am Leben,” Wagner embodied “Hass gegen das Leben” (225); Goethe’s healthy sexuality was contrasted with the tortured sexuality of Wagner’s Tannhäuser (1845) (226). Still, Nietzsche’s animus against Christianity was even stronger than Goethe’s (228), and Zanucchi shows how Nietzsche rewrites the ending of Faust II (1825–31) as a subtle dig against Goethe’s latent metaphysical tendencies (230). Zanucchi concludes by stating that perhaps the most important feature of Nietzsche’s late estimation of Goethe was the provocative way in which he equated Goethe with Napoleon Bonaparte and thereby challenged the Goethe cult that had formed in Bismarck’s Germany (239).

Katharina Grätz shows how Nietzsche absorbed the Faust material and worked with it in various innovative ways (Nietzsches Faust). Nietzsche engages with Faust (1808) not only as a reader, but he equally responds to the literary reception of the material during his time (249). The “literary” qualities of Faust play a subordinate role in his engagement (250). Nietzsche also compared and contrasted Faust with other literary and historical figures: Faust and Socrates, Faust and Hamlet, Faust and Schopenhauer, Faust and Rousseau or Faust and Beethoven (254). The early reception of Nietzsche tended to associate Zarathustra with Faust and Nietzsche with Goethe (256).

Two contributions explore the French influence, one by Robert Krause (Bootsfahrt mit Baudelaire: Das Poem Le Voyage als Prätext für Nietzsches Dithyrambus Die Sonne sinkt), the other by Ralph Häfner (Die “berühmten dîners chez Magny”: Zum Ort Heinrich Heines in Nietzsches imaginärer Gesellschaft der Klugen). Nietzsche intensified his French reading in the 1870s, and he came across Charles Baudelaire in 1883–84 (262). Nietzsche belongs to the pioneers of Baudelaire’s reception in Germany. Baudelaire became the prism through which he explored the theme of décadence (263), a borrowing from Charles Bourget’s seminal essay on the French poet. Krause analyzes Baudelaire’s Le Voyage, which he claims inspired the eternal return. The critic Walter Benjamin later contended that the eternal return entered the works of Baudelaire, Nietzsche, and Louis Auguste Blanqui around the same time (277). Häfner’s piece details Nietzsche’s intellectual affinities with an “imaginary circle” of “French” writers, which included Heine, the Brothers Goncourt, Hippolyte Taine, and even Byron. He found commonalities in their positions, and he coopted the philhellenic Heine above all for his stance against the stifling German nationalism of his time (297)

The third section of the anthology examines the ways that literary figures assimilated Nietzsche at the turn of the century and beyond. Peter Phillip Riedl focuses on “Nietzsche’s Renaissance” and how the subsequent age saw the period through Nietzschean eyes (Nietzsches Renaissance – Nietzscheanischer Renaissancismus). The term “Renaissance” emerged in the nineteenth century: it entered the discourse through Jules Michelet’s historical work by that name (1855) and was then popularized in 1860 by Jacob Burckhardt in his magisterial overview of Italian Renaissance culture (309). Nietzsche was inspired by Burckhardt’s notion of the plastische Kraft of the Renaissance type, who was focused on this world and could master his surroundings (312). Riedl sees this as the inspiration for Nietzsche’s Übermensch – linked suggestively to Cesare Borgia in Ecce homo (EH, Books 1) (313) – though I would argue that Nietzsche employed Borgia as a polemical provocation rather than as an actual ideal. Later reception tended to adopt a “hard” reading, so that Nietzsche’s amoral Gewaltmenschen came to symbolize the period (319). Riedl concludes with an examination of Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s evocative drama Der Tod des Tizian (1892), where the writer, interestingly, does not focus on amoral power projection but on questions of aestheticism and decadence (329).

Claus Zittel brings us further into the twentieth century. He examines contributions related to Nietzsche in the avant-garde journal DER STURM (“befreiteste Form”: Die Nietzscherezeption in der Zeitschrift DER STURM). There should be a wider investigation into the media of the period to determine the precise nature and spectrum of early Nietzsche reception (336). Too often the impression is that Nietzsche was associated with the themes of vitalism, irrationalism, or a vague notion of Lebensphilosophie (335). This is a narrow, one-sided view that needs to be corrected (336). By examining articles in DER STURM, an influential journal of modernism (338), Zittel shows that the contributors were less interested in Nietzsche’s connection to irrationalism, but rather more as an heir to the Enlightenment and as a Formkünstler (338). Nietzsche was never a Lebensphilosoph at any stage of his life (348). Most writers in DER STURM saw him as a strict adherent to the principle of aesthetic form at all costs. Zarathustra is the best example of the latter (349). While the spectrum of contributions to DER STURM was broad, Zittel concludes that only a handful of pieces were dedicated to Nietzsche, the irrational “disciple of Dionysus” (367).

One of the most influential poets of twentieth-century Germany, Gottfried Benn, was profoundly impacted by Nietzsche. Benn famously referred to Nietzsche as the “grösste Ausstrahlungsphänomen der Geistesgeschichte” (391), suggesting that everyone following him were epigones. While Nietzsche remained a hidden reference point for most of Benn’s poetic career, Sebastian Kaufmann tracks how Benn’s views of Nietzsche went through a subtle transformation (Weltgenie-Psychiatrie: Gottfried Benns lyrisches Nietzsche-Porträt Turin (1935)). Nietzsche was above all a writer for Benn, perhaps greater than Goethe, even though Heidegger and Karl Jaspers at the time were beginning to take him seriously as a philosopher (391–2). Three Benn poems deal explicitly with Nietzsche; Kaufmann considers his first Turin poem (1935) his best (a second version, Turin II, followed in 1946) (398). The poem focuses on Nietzsche’s breakdown on the streets of Turin in 1888 (398). Benn associates Nietzsche with various aspects of societal collapse and Europe-wide decadence that Nietzsche both heralded and personified. Nietzsche is symbolic for the ongoing crisis of modernity. Later Benn disassociated himself from his Nietzsche enthusiasm, and in the process released himself from misgivings about his earlier support of euthanasia and breeding that he had associated with Nietzsche (417).

In the final contribution to the volume (Nietzsche erzählen: Zur Aktualität eines “Ausstrahlungsphänomens” in der Literatur der Gegenwart), Gesa von Essen looks at four more recent examples of the literary reception of Nietzsche. Irvin D. Yalom’s 1992 novel When Nietzsche Wept presents a fictionalized encounter between Nietzsche and Sigmund Freud’s mentor, Josef Breuer, in Vienna in 1882. Lou von Salomé seeks out Dr. Breuer’s help to cure Nietzsche of his debilitating migraines and his lingering obsession with her (426). A credentialed psychiatrist and aspiring writer, Yalom succeeded in writing an international bestseller, which was subsequently filmed (2007) (425). Bernhard Setzwein’s Nicht kalt genug (2000) was well-received by insiders if not quite a bestseller (433). The novel follows the seven crucial years Nietzsche spent in the Swiss resort of Sils. It concludes with Nietzsche’s assessment that he “wasn’t cold enough” for his own thoughts. Overcome by pity, he failed to turn himself into that what he wanted to become (440–1). Swiss writer Thomas Hürlimann’s Nietzsches Regenschirm (2015) is framed by two major events in Nietzsche’s life: his “Zarathustra inspiration” along the Lake Silvaplana in 1881 and his mental breakdown in Turin in 1888 (441). Hürlimann opts for an open narrative, weaving in fictional aspects, random snippets from Nietzsche’s texts and letters as well as his own personal reminiscences (441). The French illustrator Maximilien Le Roy and writer and philosopher Michel Onfray joined together in 2010 to create an impressively illustrated version of Nietzsche’s life, a “comic” visualizing key moments of his biography (449–51).

2. Nietzsche als Dichter: Lyrik – Poetologie – Rezeption focuses primarily on Nietzsche’s poetic output. In their introduction, Katharina Grätz and Sebastian Kaufmann argue for the significance of poetry within Nietzsche’s œuvre. They establish several distinct features of his style of writing. For one, Nietzsche often took traditional metaphors and symbols and gave them new meaning (2). He emphasized the importance of style, images, and tonality, setting him apart from the philosophy of his time. It also explains why writers were the first to embrace him (3). His texts were meant to be performative, further distancing from contemporary philosophers. And he loved the hypothetical als ob (as if) and the use of the subjunctive, which emphasized ambiguity and the provisional nature of his utterances (5).

In a piece on Nietzsche’s poetical practice (Lyrik und Lyriktheorie im Werk Nietzsches), Kaufmann argues that Nietzsche’s lyrical production is significant and should not be considered inferior. Nietzsche composed about 700 poems in his lifetime, although there still is no historical-critical commentary (8). On Kaufmann’s view, “Nietzsche is not a philosopher and a writer on the side but both at once” (11). The boundaries between the two disciplines dissolve in Zarathustra, where philosophy slides into poetry (12). More often, however, Nietzsche incorporates poetry into his work in the form of Vorspiel, appendix, motto, etc., which makes it difficult to remove the poems from their context or to interpret them in isolation (12). Nietzsche did not publish much independent poetry during his lifetime and remained ambivalent about its worth (16).

In his youthful poetic production, Nietzsche responded to the Romantic themes of solitude and homelessness, and the poems of the Romantic Eichendorff served as one inspirational model (27). In his early poetic cycle In der Ferne (1860) (Armin Thomas Müller: Nietzsches Jugendlyrik am Beispiel des Gedichtzyklus In der Ferne), Nietzsche works through the tensions between the Greek world and Christian ideals (32). Ailing as a child and young man, Nietzsche looked to the ancient world as an example of the “heroic life,” and he combined that yearning with the melancholy of someone who felt he was born too late (33). Despite being attracted by the ancient idyll, he was still drawn in his youth to Christian symbolism in the composition of his poetry.

Melancholy is also the theme of some of his other poetic works. Armin Thomas Müller explores the long tradition of “melancholy” as a poetic motif and gives it context (Nietzsches Gimmelwalder Melancholie-Gedichte aus dem Sommer 1871). Whereas the Middle Ages regarded melancholy as a form of physical affliction with medical origins (51), the modern era saw it as the typical condition of the sensitive, creative individual. Nietzsche complained often about bouts of melancholy (53). In his poem An die Melancholie (1871), he treats melancholy as an inspirational, threatening divinity, though Nietzsche combined both the sensitive tradition with the pathologizing interpretation in an ironic-parodistic manner (53). Through the act of writing, Nietzsche tried to master the “monster” of melancholy (77).

While the theme of melancholy in Nietzsche’s poetic output also serves as the starting point for Mike Rottman’s piece (“Das Unglück holt den Flüchtigen ein – und sei’s”: Nietzsches inszenierte Melancholie als poetische Begründung des zukünftigen Philosophen. Mit zwei Exkursen zum Problem der Interpretation Nietzschescher Gedichte), Rottman is more interested in providing the foundational theoretical groundwork for a literary, poetic interpretation of Nietzsche’s thinking. Critical of attempts to separate the philosopher Nietzsche from the poet, Rottman believes that commentators have undervalued the poetic dimension of Nietzsche’s thinking, though it is central to his philosophizing. It is not a matter of determining a fixed point in his philosophical thought, but rather of describing the complexity and resonance of his language and learning to appreciate sensual forms of awareness and understanding (212). He criticizes attempts to downplay the aesthetic component of his thought, especially by academic philosophers (211). Instead, he argues for a dialogue between philosophy and philology that will allow us to get closer to the roots of Nietzsche’s thinking (210).

Two contributions deal with aspects of Zarathustra. Jan Kerkmann examines the role of the soothsayer (Wahrsager) in that text (Die Einkreisung der schwarzen Schlange: Zur Figur des Wahrsagers im Zarathustra). Throughout his life, Nietzsche was interested in representative figures, and in Zarathustra, the various characters serve as foils to the protagonist (247). He uses them as contrasting types to distance himself from positions he once held or still might find seductive. The Wahrsager is the only character that appears in Parts II and IV of the text (251), and he represents a type Zarathustra needs to overcome (252). Zarathustra knows that the Wahrsager cannot be defeated on theoretical grounds (265); he must first overcome the pity that ties him with the “higher types” and to build resistance to the type the Wahrsager embodies. Kerkmann’s article underlines the importance of character types as a part of Nietzsche’s literary strategy, and how they are tied to his efforts to overcome nihilism.

Nathalie Schulte shows how Nietzsche problematizes the role of the poet (Dichter) in Zarathustra (Nur Narr, nur Dichter? Das Lied der Schwermuth in Nietzsches Zarathustra). The poet is in the position to know that its creations are fictions, which relativizes the truth-content of its utterances. The section Das Lied der Schwermuth reveals itself as the self-accusation of a poet who realizes that he cannot be all that he wanted to be (291):

In the end the poet is not in the position to deceive itself in permanence. Even when he tries to glorify God, he always knows where this urge to glorify stems – from himself. God is revealed to be a form of human projection. The conflict between the poet’s search for divine wisdom and his awareness that this can only be a projection reaches its high point in the poet’s desire to tear God apart, both in himself and in others (291).

If the poet were able to recognize and accept its own creations as creations, he could finally overcome his innate feelings of melancholy, desperation, and inadequacy (292).

Christina Kast attempts to ground all of Nietzsche’s philosophy in poetry (“Nur Narr! Nur Dichter!” Nietzsches Versuch einer Neubegründung der Philosophie in der Dichtung). For Kast, poetry is the truest representation of philosophical thought (378). Already in early Nietzsche, the will to truth was linked with the will to (self-)deception and appearance (383). Art is the good will to deceive (385). Kast sees the figure of Dionysus as being central (even though Dionysus leaves the stage for most of his philosophy): “Dionysus is the secret thread that unifies his entire work” (386). With the symbol of Dionysus, the deifier of appearance, Nietzsche overturns the value of truth (386); this overturning culminates in the worship of appearance (387). In that sense, poetry is “the truest, most affirmative art form,” at every moment aware of its own will to appearance (389). Philosophy collapses into poetry (390). “Poetry is the earliest stage [Vorform] of philosophy” (Eugen Fink, quoted on page 390). The late Dionysus Dithyrambs (1889) are thus his main work and his final word: they “are not only to be understood as the playful poeticization of his philosophy; they stand at its core” (390) For Nietzsche, the last step is for his thinking to dissolve fully into absolute appearance – into poetry (399). Truth (to be tolerated) requires the veil of beautiful appearance (Schein) (391).

Kaufmann and Thomas Forrer reflect on Nietzsche’s use of the idyll in his poetry. Kaufmann examines the Idyllen von Messina (Heiterkeit, Heroismus, Sentimentalität: Nietzsche Idyllen aus Messina und poetologisches Konzept der Idylle). Nietzsche was critical of the sentimentalized representation of the shepherd in modernity (102). He was skeptical of the attempts to paint an optimistic version of the Greeks based on the shepherd theme in their poetry; in this, he was anti-Rousseau (103). He was also taking a position against Wagner, whom he considered a radical Romantic idyllist, who wanted to purge German music from Latin tendencies (104). Nietzsche’s reworked idyll reflected a heroic-sentimental understanding, developed in contrast to the earlier concept of a romantic-optimistic or Germanic tragic form of the genre (108). In fact, the Idyllen incorporate “serene,” “heroic,” and “sentimental” qualities. Kaufmann suggests Nietzsche’s radical diagnosis of decadence in this period led to his altered awareness regarding the nature of the idyll (108).

Thomas Forrer examines another of Nietzsche’s poems in the vein of a (parodic) idyll: Lied eines theokritschen Ziegenhirten (Philologische Dichtung: Friedrich Nietzsches Lied eines theokritischen Ziegenhirten) which appears at the end of the Die fröhliche Wissenschaft (1882–87) under the poetic collection, Lieder des Prinzen Vogelfrei. Nietzsche uses his training as a philologist to subvert the idyllic tradition (160). His philological approach gives him historical-critical insight into the genre, and it allows him to develop his own creative poetic-critical commentary on the ancient bucolic tradition and it idealization (168). He emphasizes the conventionality of Theocritean poetry, mocks it, and shows its limitations (171). This process opens a critical space for a poetic reimagination and reinterpretation of the genre (176). In the end, it becomes not only a critical poetic commentary on a tradition, but it is in itself productive and gives us a taste of a future vision: a practicing “gay science” (176).

Katharina Grätz shows how Nietzsche takes the idiom of nature in new directions in her analysis of the Rosenlauibader Gedichte (“doch sehen wir sein Sprechen nur”: Nietzsches Gedicht Um Mittag/Am Gletscher und die Lesbarkeit der Natur). While not many critics have focused on these poems, those who have recognize their importance for his poetic development, above all in his use of nature imagery. The poems are a threshold moment, pointing to a new poetic awareness and even suggesting the future poetry of décadence (83). The poems draw meteorological occurrences in anthropomorphic terms and reduce them to a human dimension. While the Romantics saw the metaphor of nature as decipherable (88), in Nietzsche’s poem Um Mittag (1877), human being and nature stand opposed to each other as inscrutable subject and object (88). The human being plays the role of observer for whom the language of nature is incommensurable (88). Nature interpretation now becomes human self-diagnosis (93). As Nietzsche wrote to Paul Rée in 1877: “Weshalb fühlt man sich so wohl in der freien Natur? Weil diese keine Meinung über uns hat. –” (June 1877, no. 627, KSB 5.246).

Michael Buhl explores the performative aspects of Nietzsche’s writings (Textstrategie und Performativität: Diologizität, Literarizität und Polyperspektivität im Kontext von Nietzsches Kommunikationstheorie). Whereas in natural science a counter position can be rejected as “false,” in literary texts an opponent can never be “defeated” (298). It is the positioning of ideas in the text, their literary staging, that relativizes absolute truths and creates resonance between ideas and communication between reader and text. Even if one is interested primarily in Nietzsche’s “philosophical” content, one should never ignore the way in which a text is composed, its stylistic representation (313). The late Nietzsche does not include “literary” passages for their own sake; they are part of a conscious textual strategy, which increases the complexity of his writings and heightens their suggestiveness and our ongoing interest in them (314).

Milan Wenner gives an example of the performativity of his texts in his analysis of the poem Nach neuen Meeren (1887) (“Nach neuen Meeren”: Nietzsches Abenteuerlyrik vor dem Hintergrund der Fröhlichen Wissenschaft). Here, Nietzsche hints at the seafaring voyages of Christopher Columbus – the poem refers to a “Genoese ship” – and suggests setting out on open seas to an undisclosed destination. In both ancient and Christian traditions, the traveler is aware of his destination, but in Nietzsche’s poem the open ocean becomes its own objective. Nietzsche certainly knew of the Romantic tradition of the “endless voyage” in the late Romantic tradition (Coleridge, Byron, Heine), which found its ultimate representation in the myth of the Flying Dutchman, put to music by Wagner (127). In Nietzsche’s version, the voyage is associated with the “passion for knowledge,” and the knowledge-seeker is now free to embark on uncharted waters. Columbus becomes a symbol for the “spiritual discoverer”: the newly liberated spirit welcomes the “open ocean” where everything has become possible again. The lyrical “I” of the poem does not strive to reach solid ground; the “new oceans” have become their own reward. Nietzsche suggests that there can no longer be a single interpretation of the world, but rather the world contains in itself endless possibilities (147).

The volume concludes with articles on the reception of Nietzsche’s poetic process and rhetorical practice. Ann-Christin Bolay examines two monographs on Nietzsche by Ernst Bertram (1884–1957) and Theobald Ziegler (1846–1918). A member of Stefan George’s esoteric circle, Bertram represents the highpoint of Nietzsche worship (446). Bertram focused more on the writer than the philosopher, and he praised the way in which Nietzsche broke through all specialization and crossed the boundaries between science and poetry (448). In Bertram’s treatment, Nietzsche becomes a prophet in the manner of Stefan George. Ziegler appreciated Nietzsche’s literary approach to philosophy and preferred his “lyrical prose” to his actual poetry (453). Reflective of the early reception of Nietzsche, Bertram and Ziegler were focused on Nietzsche as a writer and were determined to secure for him a position among the literary greats (462).

In the final piece of the volume, Katharina Grätz presents an overview of Nietzsche’s reception by turn-of-the-century literary modernists (Nietzsches Rezeption als Dichter in der literarischen Moderne). Grätz reinforces that Nietzsche was seen primarily as poet by this group. (465) Artists recognized him as one of their own. Even if he is now seen foremost as a philosopher, he was considered a writer and a lyrical poet in most of the early reception (468). The transition to a greater philosophical appreciation has led to a marginalization of his poetical output and his significance as a writer. Grätz helps to remind us, then, that for his first admirers and promoters, Nietzsche was the consummate artist, “more prophet and writer than philosopher,” as scholar Alfred Biese concluded in 1911 (quoted on page 480).

3. Adam Lecznar’s monograph focuses on Die Geburt der Tragödie along with its subsequent reception by five scholars and writers in the twentieth century. Though first rejected by the philological discipline in his lifetime – most famously, in a scathing review by the rising philological star, Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff – Die Geburt der Tragödie weathered the initial storms and has advanced to becoming a classic work on the ancient world. Although most scholars acknowledge its flaws – its historical inaccuracies and speculation (as Wilamowitz had recorded) – they now also recognize its fruitful impulses and the way it has challenged and inspired our understanding of Greek antiquity. After the failure of the book, however, Nietzsche stopped referring to Dionysus in his work, though after the publication of Zarathustra in 1884, he had begun to revise his understanding of ancient Greece and the role of Dionysus (4). In his final works and random jottings, Dionysus makes a strong reappearance, to the point that Nietzsche merges with Dionysus.

Lecznar gives a brief overview of the philological tradition when Nietzsche started his work. “Born into the interstices of mournful philhellenism associated with figures like Winckelmann, Goethe and Schiller and the rigorous historicism associated with figures like Leopold von Ranke, Friedrich August Wolf, Karl Otfried Müller and August Böckh” (12), Nietzsche tried to find a way to “reach the Greeks” combining scholarship and creative intuition. What has since spoken to subsequent interpreters of the work, including the five that Lecznar examines, is its “impressive evocation of Dionysus” that has “highlighted the possibility of an empathetic, sensuous connection between modern observer and ancient object beyond the constraints of rationality and history” (12–3).

Lecznar argues that Nietzsche was not the first to detect a darker undercurrent of irrationality in ancient Greece; Herder, Heine, Schlegel, and Kleist had already suggested it. And contemporary scholars such as Creuzer, Bachofen and Burckhardt had also informed his vision, one that contradicted the standard “narrative of idealized Hellenic preeminence” (13). While I would agree with Lecznar’s assessment, I would argue that Nietzsche’s vision of Greece was more original and provocative than any version in his time and suggested a more radical revision. This explains the forceful rejection on the part of contemporary philologists, who were well aware of the tradition Lecznar references.

Nietzsche’s bold reinterpretation of the ancient world proved endlessly stimulating to writers who were challenged by its suggestive contrast of the ancient world with the modern and the inspiration this provided: “The central focus of this study is the idea that Nietzsche’s account of ancient Greece offered its readers a particular temporal and anthropological configuration of the ‘relation’ between the ancient and modern worlds” (15). Dionysus “represents not the ancient god himself but rather the desire to remove antiquity from the constraints of idealism or historicism and to use it as a symbolic lexicon by which to understand and articulate the shocks of contemporary life” (15).

The British classics scholar Jane Ellen Harrison (1850–1928) is the first person discussed. Though perhaps less known today, her reading of antiquity strongly impacted the first wave of modernists: “Harrison exerted a profound influence on the vison of Greece that modernist writers encountered and utilized, appearing in the writing and reading of Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, T. S. Eliot and [D. H.] Lawrence himself” (34). Harrison’s ideas continue to resonate, with Camille Paglia acknowledging her influence on her seminal Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson (1990) (38).

Harrison shared Nietzsche’s appreciation for the importance of myth, ritual, and religion, “though the anthropological approach […] would have come to Harrison through a variety of ways” (45), including from the Scottish anthropologist James G. Frazer in his “phenomenally successful and influential The Golden Bough: A Study of Magic and Religion” (1890) (45). But the way Harrison “sought out the origins of Greek tragedy and Dionysus as a symbol for the irrational structures of Greek religious belief” resonated with the ways Nietzsche approached these same issues. Harrison and Nietzsche also shared interest in satyrs and their mythological significance; both treated satyrs together with centaurs (a move for which Wilamowitz had criticized Nietzsche) (55). “But rather than consider the satyrs as representations of deep symbolic structures […] Harrison frames her discussion by developing the idea that their mythology is an embellishment of long-forgotten historical events in the Greek imagination” (55). In this and many other ways, Harrison engaged in a productive exchange with Nietzsche’s ideas on Greek myth, tragedy, and ritual, and was one of the first inspired by his speculations to push beyond the conventions of nineteenth-century philology.

Lecznar then turns to D. H. Lawrence. Lawrence engaged in an exchange with Nietzsche, though more in a sense of creative antagonism. Lawrence was frustrated with the pessimistic undercurrents of modernism and with modernists’ adoption of a tragic sensibility informed by Nietzsche. He “argues forcefully that tragedy is a genre and a concept that must be left behind so that human beings can flourish in this world” (70). However, Lawrence “wrote in the spirit of Nietzsche when he questioned tragedy’s influence on the world and called for his fellow writers to create stories and worlds that could combat its pernicious moral influence” (71). Critical of Nietzsche’s tragic sensibility, he was sympathetic to his spirit of the “gay science” (87). Above all, Lawrence was critical of the “grand” notion of tragedy, as it stood in the way of realizing a new form of life: “Lawrence gestures towards an art form that moves past the tragic paradigm and offers examples of how humans might live in the world in a way that is neither isolated nor severed off from each other but in harmony with other humans and the natural world: ‘this is the supreme art, which yet remains to be done’” (96).

Lecznar focuses on the significance of the pre-Socratics for the Heideggerian reception of Nietzsche. Nietzsche’s influence on Heidegger was certainly broad and deep, extending beyond a shared affinity for the pre-Socratic tradition, but this angle allows Lecznar to explore the influence of pre-Socratic readings of Nietzsche (e. g., Oehler, Ludovici and Levy) on Heidegger’s thought, particularly in its connections to National Socialism: “Heidegger would controversially term his ‘confrontations’ with National Socialism during these years [as being] marked by an engagement with Presocratic philosophy and, in turn, with its Nietzschean rendition” (100). Dionysus does not play a prominent role in Heidegger’s thought, though Lecznar judges this to be a form of evasion, and Heidegger always sought “to push his students towards an understanding of the god that emphasized his antiquity rather than his modernity” (108). Still, Heidegger’s own engagement with the god revealed that his meanings pointed to a “most terrifying death and annihilation’ and as part of ‘a hidden stylistic law of the historical determination of the German people’” (108). In Lecznar’s view, Nietzsche became for Heidegger “the liminal thinker who marks the end of the metaphysical tradition and the chance to reinstate a new commencement” (120).

In the Sixties, there was a great upsurge in the performance of Greek tragedy worldwide, particularly the drama of Euripides (131). During this time, “’Dionysus and the Dionysian were frequently pressed into service as a metaphor or conceptualization of perceived crises’” (131). The American performance theorist and theatrical director Richard Schechner contributed to this resurgence and to the immense popularity of Nietzsche’s Greeks in the postwar period (130). His play Dionysus in 69 (1969), loosely based on Euripides’ Bacchae, brought the classics alive by using new theatrical techniques to stage a dialogue between the classical text and the new political and intellectual experiences (152). Schechner took advantage of this “rapturous collision” between the two realms of experience “to examine the way in which the Nietzschean Dionysus could stand as a symbol both for the irrational elements of experience and knowledge, and the more destructive drives within his contemporary culture” (152). Critical of contemporary dramatic production, Schechner believed that the West “had reduced theater to a spare-time entertainment;” instead, he looked to the examples of “primitive” societies in which theater had ritualistic functions (155). Rejecting a modern theater that served a purely mimetic function, he created a subversive response to the contemporary political situation and a drama with a ritualistic awareness emanating from the wellsprings of emotion and inspiration (156).

Finally, there is the Nigerian poet, playwright, and novelist Wole Soyinka, 1986 Nobel Laureate in Literature. Soyinka first heard about Nietzsche while an undergraduate at the University of Leeds (1954–57), probably through the renowned Shakespeare scholar G. Wilson Knight (171). In 1969, Soyinka published an abstruse meditation on tragedy, The Fourth Stage: Through the Mysteries of Ogun to the Origins of Yoruba Tragedy, with clear traces of Nietzsche’s Geburt der Tragödie (171). Soyinka saw Nietzsche and Dionysus through the lens of race; Nietzsche had first pointed to the non-Hellenic sources of ancient myth and ritual: “Nietzsche is keen to demonstrate that Dionysus is not solely a product of European cultural tradition that originate in ancient Athens [and he] describes initial Hellenic opposition to the worship of Dionysus in terms that emphasize [its] foreign nature” (164). Denigrating Schechner’s appropriation of Dionysus as a reflection of “white bourgeois hippie American culture” (166), Soyinka adapted his own version of the Bacchae, commissioned by the Royal National Theatre of Great Britain in 1972 (one hundred years after publication of Die Geburt der Tragödie) (176). Soyinka’s main alteration to the play – he retains much of the plot and the character list of the original drama – is his decision to incorporate a chorus of slaves alongside the female worshippers of Dionysus (179). Dionysus thus symbolizes more than an ecstatic liberation from social norms; it gestures toward a concrete political emancipation.

Lecznar’s monograph presents examples of how Nietzsche’s seminal text on tragedy continues to resonate well beyond its initial controversial publication in 1872. Though fervently rejected by Nietzsche’s philological contemporaries, his text has had the last laugh; it lives on as a “classic” work, having since inspired several generations of writers and theorists, who looked beyond its historical inaccuracies and speculations and could appreciate its powerful, suggestive evocation of ancient myth and ritual. In his concluding remarks, Lecznar believes that Die Geburt der Tragödie can point to a new direction for Classics – a volte-face from the type of vision that Nietzsche’s nemesis Wilamowitz had sought to promote. Each of Lecznar’s representative figures prove how Classics can evolve beyond an antiquarian discipline and can thrive by creating a productive exchange between the ancient and the modern world. Nietzsche early on recognized the need for such a bold move, and it was left to the following generations to take up his challenge.[1]

The two anthologies do not refer to Die Geburt der Tragödie, but many articles focus on the powerful resonance Nietzsche had on literary producers and theorists following his death. The volumes under review provide a valuable service in contemporary scholarship in that they remind us that Nietzsche’s first and most ardent promotors among the public were literary critics, poets, and writers, who recognized his stylistic brilliance; this was followed only later by a deeper appreciation from the side of practicing philosophers (e. g., Heidegger and Jaspers). In fact, academic philosophers of the first generation were skeptical of his fame and used the epithet Dichterphilosoph to denigrate him and his achievements.

Since those early years, we have undergone a sea change in perception. While some academic philosophers remain skeptical of Nietzsche’s philosophical content, very few now question his status as one of the great philosophers in the Western tradition. His position in the canon is fixed. But this has led to a reversal of earlier assessments: the literariness of his writings, and his deep interconnections with the literary traditions of both his time and the past, are now perceived either to be extraneous, a distraction or even a hindrance to understanding his philosophical content. It seems now that if we wish to value his philosophical contribution, we must learn to ignore his style, his textual strategies, and his literary embellishments. The pieces in these volumes suggest this view is mistaken.

There are many virtues of the perspectives represented by these volumes, but I will conclude with what I also consider a drawback. It surprising from our current vantagepoint that it took so long to recognize Nietzsche’s standing as a philosopher. Of course, there were those who aligned him early on with contemporary currents in natural science, such as Darwinism (the Übermensch lent itself to that), or with modish philosophical vogues, such as Lebensphilosophie (as Claus Zittel has shown), but it took almost fifty years before Nietzsche was seen to have worked out sharply delineated philosophical positions, albeit in unconventional (often literary) form. His brilliant style led many early readers to remain on the surface. They did not recognize how his passages were meticulously chiseled set pieces that engaged with the philosophical tradition while creating a network of communication within his work as a whole. These deeper resonances required knowledge of the complete corpus and the wider philosophical tradition. It goaded readers to explore his writings to piece together connections between what seemed to be randomly positioned passages. His ideas were presented in various configurations and literary modes. But each of these ideas were preceded and accompanied by a deeper exploration of questions that have animated the history of Western philosophy, such as the tradition of radical skepticism or the nature of metaphysical speculation.

Thankfully, Nietzsche’s philosophical credentials are now secure, and philosophers no longer denigrate him based on the style of his presentation. But this (delayed) recognition has come at a cost. It has meant that Nietzsche is now parsed for his set positions within the classical philosophical canon. If Nietzsche is to be regarded as a philosopher, so the thinking goes, it will require us to determine his position on free will or consciousness, or have a worked out “theory of knowledge,” or even, in his specific case, an internally consistent articulation of the “will to power” or the “eternal return.” His texts are scoured for data that will uncover a traditional philosopher behind the distractions of his prose so that we can once and for all define where he stood on the set of questions that matter most to the philosophical profession. Thus, while philosophers now acknowledge that Nietzsche entertained philosophically valid and stimulating responses to the central questions of philosophy, they often arrive at this conclusion by stripping away the extraneous shell of his language and literary presentation to extract what they consider to be its philosophical core.

The contributions to these volumes counter this more recent perspective. From various angles, they return to the question of Nietzsche’s style of literary representation. The latter is something that cannot simply be removed from his philosophical project as a superficial extra, they suggest, but is part and parcel of it. How he chooses to communicate; the diverse ways he addresses his audience; the manner in which he keeps his ultimate views (intentionally) hidden from view; his numerous thought experiments and hypotheticals which do not disclose a set position; the way in which he addresses both sides of a question but then leaves the matter unresolved – all these strategies are intentional and articulate the nature of his unique form of philosophy, while they point to a future mode of philosophical thought that breaks with tradition and models new forms of philosophical presentation. Nietzsche’s dissatisfaction with the way in which philosophy had traditionally been practiced and “packaged” was the impetus to explore new means of philosophizing that may have dealt with “eternal” questions but did not want his thought to be reduced to them. In short, the outer literary representations are not distractions from his philosophy; they express his deepest convictions concerning the problem with traditional philosophy and hint at what a “philosophy of the future” should aspire to.

One such mode of literary representation is the use of poetic forms. It is a mistake, on my view, to analyze Nietzsche’s poems on their own or to compare them to other poems in the poetical canon. Here, too, Nietzsche is not a “poet” in a traditional sense, just as he does not comfortably fit into the philosophical canon, either. The reason that Nietzsche might have been insecure about the value of his poetry is that he recognized that it could not measure up to the work of poetic formalists such as Goethe, Leopardi, or Baudelaire. (It is comparable, I think, to his forsaking musical composition due to recognizing that Wagner would surpass anything that he could compose; his ear for music then benefited his prose.) That does not mean that his poetry was inferior. It just means that poetry was one feature of his overall philosophical presentation, and that the poetry takes on resonance when one knows how it connects with his larger philosophical vision. Read in isolation or without an informed context, his poetry loses much of its suggestiveness and can appear quite flat or one-dimensional. But incorporated into his writings, the poetry adds an additional dimension to his philosophical objectives in that it can create a heightened mood or inner state of awareness that can connect with the reader in ways that the prose cannot. Along with the musicality and tonality of his prose, then, the poetry is another tool in his efforts to appeal to the senses of the reader, to work with suggestion rather than with conviction or argument.

But the literary evocativeness of Nietzsche’s texts, which I agree is essential to his meanings, points to one of the flaws behind some of the contributions. Perhaps in trying to reestablish the literariness of Nietzsche’s writings, and to make the case for how literary style is inextricable from philosophical content, some contributors go too far by to suggesting a vague Nietzschean counter-philosophy which claims a superior lever of awareness and truthfulness in an unseen hidden core of Nietzsche’s thought. There is much talk in these texts of indeterminacy, shifting meanings, philosophy as poetry, poetry as superior to philosophy, as well as attempts to ground an alternative philosophical “system” in such theories. It is notoriously difficult to explicate how a philosophy works on moods and suggests states of awareness and how to quantify and qualify that. Of course, that is how poetry operates, and the analyses of poems can be quite sophisticated, but they can never determine ultimate meaning but only more or less successfully attempt to explain how feeling and thought combine to produce resonant meaning in the reader. But to base an analysis of Nietzsche’s philosophy on such shaky grounds, or even to suggest that philosophy is all about this literary indeterminacy (while arguing that Nietzsche’s philosophy is not “about” anything), will not effectively counter the practice of philosophical practitioners eliminating all questions of style in their interpretations, and it will indeed make it easier for them to disregard such positions as philosophically unsound and unnecessarily nebulous. The goal should not be to establish two competing, irreconcilable theoretical models of Nietzsche and what his philosophy “means;” it is working toward an awareness that literature and literary modes of representations are indeed important for Nietzsche and to better understand how they are.

In concluding, I would like to suggest one possible approach to this question. It is surprising how few contributors refer to Nietzsche’s use of literary conventions, such as characters or narrative development (an exception may be the pieces by Kerkmann and Wenner). Not only is Nietzsche’s philosophy focused on revealing how individual philosophies are grounded in the very personal motivations, idiosyncrasies, and moral blind spots of its practitioners, but he delights in personifying them in caricatured form in historical figures. In the case of Socrates, for example, this is not unlike what Aristophanes had done by rendering Socrates as a character in his comedy The Clouds and thereby mocking him and his positions without directly engaging his “system” of thought. Literature becomes a means to express deeper philosophical awareness through artistic representation. By creating the literary set piece of The Dying Socrates (GS 340), for example, Nietzsche created his own version of a dramatic scene with the character of Socrates, which allows us to visualize the historical moment, while suggesting a deeper philosophical insight into the nature of Socratic pessimism. Or in the case of Zarathustra, many interpreters extract set philosophical principles from the text, but very few analyze how the narrative unfolding of the protagonist’s story and his discovery of the eternal return are tied to elements of traditional storytelling and dramatic exposition and how the latter contribute to its meanings.

While the modes of Nietzsche’s literary expression are broad and almost endless (and I do not mean to suggest that the above approach should be the only one), I believe that Nietzsche’s philosophy is not merely a reflection of his style of writing (his use of ellipses, for example, or suggestive intertextual resonances – though I agree that they, too, play an important role), but how he engages with the literary tradition and how the literary conventions and his rotating cast of characters convey his ideas, not unlike methods used by dramatists or traditional storytellers.[2] Looking at these examples of literariness will allow us to create connections between philosophy and literature, and the strategies he used, we will discover, are not all that different from methods that traditional philosophers or philosophically inclined writers (Plato, Kierkegaard, Montaigne, Diderot, come to mind) have used in the past or that great writers, such as Cervantes, have always used. As the anthologies under review show, Nietzsche’s ongoing appeal resides in his ability to appeal to two (often distinct) types of readers: those drawn to literature and literary forms of representation while his work equally speaks to those who prefer to engage with more traditional modes of philosophical presentation. In the end, there is room to bridge the divide between the two sides so long as we accept that literary conventions and modes of expression are compatible with a philosophical cast of mind. We should not need to stake our claim on either side of the arbitrary divide.


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Published Online: 2022-05-13
Published in Print: 2022-11-30

© 2022 bei den Autoren, publiziert von De Gruyter.

Dieses Werk ist lizensiert unter einer Creative Commons Namensnennung 4.0 International Lizenz.

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