Nietzsche’s Monster Thing

Nothing benign does Nietzsche value. I’m still ruminating on the preface to “A Nietzsche Reader” translated by R. J. Hollingdale.


In Section 3 of Why I Write Such Good Books in “Ecce Homo”, Nietzsche says: “When I picture a perfect reader, I always picture a monster of courage and curiosity, also something supple, cautious, a born adventurer and discoverer … ”

A few words before, he says, “Any ‘feminism’ in a person, or in a man, likewise closes the gates on me: one will never be able to enter this labyrinth of daring knowledge.”

He adds that harshness should be a habit of his readers.

We already know that Nietzsche is keen on our approaching philosophy as a sort of history. It is possible, perhaps, to see Nietzsche making his way around Sils-Maria, thinking in the high air of his evolving discoveries. He has already determined that there is a Dionysian man (sic) who is vastly more attuned to the immediacies of the immanent frame than to the thinking of  his ordered and reasonable Apollonian counterpart.  He has already launched his beloved Zarathustra, who ranges the heights and embodies the values Nietzsche himself apparently reveres.

I say apparently because this man in Sils, and later in Turin, is a quiet and solitary person whose mode would suggest less a monster (of anything) than a somewhat cautious and quite polite human being.  Even if you were to confront him with an arch statement regarding his premature use of feminism as a door-closer, he might remember his one major love — a woman who I am sure he regarded as his equal in every way — with a wistful sigh, or perhaps with no visible expression at all.

I believe “monster” is a provocative word Nietzsche uses to jolt readers into some willingness to leap into the Dionysian arena of involvement with the process of revaluation he is summoning us to. Elsewhere he speaks of himself as an immoralist because he is rejecting the moralities of millennia. No small aspect of his skewering of Kant and other universal moralists is because he perceives that acts rise from particular circumstances. There can be no universal direction of what one can or should do.

Nietzsche drew a sharp distinction between Jesus and Christianity — seeing Jesus as the bearer of glad tidings and Christianity as a repository of resentment, self-denigration and  repression.

Again I go historical.  At the time when he wrote “Ecce Homo” (1888), Nietzsche saw himself as a posthumous author, someone who would not be understood for possibly decades and even centuries. Even now, a critic such as Harold Bloom will off-handedly dismiss what he calls the French Nietzsche, by which I assume he means existentialists  postmodernists who have tried their hand at parsing what Nietzsche meant by  eternal return.

Nietzsche spent his first forty posthumous years being adopted by Hitler, his will to power forged into the venomous poison of the Fatherland.  He spent another forty or more posthumous years with just a few champions, such as Walter Kaufman and R. J. Hollingdale, to disabuse the Nietzsche-is-a-Nazi crowd of their false slur. It is easy enough to do this simply by noting Nietzsche’s plain statements lamenting the values and culture of Germany, including its nationalism and its anti-semitism.

Nietzsche’s monster thing is like his immoralist thing and like all of his other provocative things. All seem designed to jolt us definitively out of our often-devious hold on the received verities.  I think Nietzsche would agree with those who understand today’s situation in terms of the death throes of the world whose demise Nietzsche heralded.

It is the question of how Nietzsche would revalue values in light of this change that this rumination tends.


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