Why does the world need 45 new volumes of work by German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche?
Nietzsche is one of Germany’s most famous and controversial thinkers who believed in power, creativity and the realities of the world we live in, rather than focusing on the next life.
His ideas included the concept of exuberant man radiating strength and chasing experience. His writings encapsulated ideas from ongoing rebirth to German history, including music, friendship and love along the way.
Although in his lifetime, Nietzsche rejected Nazi ideology, posthumous editions of his work present him as a supporter, even a propagator, of Nazism. Some of these posthumous editions were published by his sister, a Nazi supporter.
Nietzsche himself edited and re-edited his thinking and his works.
Nietzsche’s most famous works include “the Birth of Tragedy” which outlines his ideas about classic philosophy, German and Greek culture. "Human, All Too Human" contains a collection of his sayings and essays. In "The Gay Science" he writes about the death of Christianity.
One of his best-known works is a collection of short stories, "Thus Spoke Zarathustra," which explore his ideas about the overman, the will to power, eternal recurrence, and the death of god. He wrote more about his rejection of Christianity in "The Antichrist."
Video: Understanding Nietzsche.
In his analysis of history, Nietzsche suggested there were master and slave cultural codes which people and societies adopted to survive. People and societies who adopted the former would attain great achievements; those following the latter were inferior. He wrote that the Jews had been slaves of the Egyptians and had adopted a slave cultural code that was later adopted by Christianity.
Nietzsche believed Judeo-Christian morality, democracy, republicanism, socialism, and communism all represented slave moralities, in contrast to the greatness achieved by the Roman and Greek societies.
He also believed that social change and the rise of science meant new moral codes were needed and would be supplied by new “overman.”
Historians later argued that the Nazis took Nietzsche’s writings out of context; that he was disappointed by German society as he saw it and also by the growth of anti-Semitism in his time. He is also said to have thought highly of modern Jewish people.
Nietzsche was often unwell, and he suffered a massive nervous breakdown and was cared for by his sister Elisabeth Förster-Nietszche later in his life. After he died, she edited his work, in line with her National Socialist beliefs.
Three publishers in Germany plan to issue new collections of his writing to mark the 175th anniversary of his birth on October 15, 2019. Publishing houses Stroemfeld, R Schmidt-Grépály and LSD Verlag all seek to free Nietzsche from his reputation as a Nazi and redress the historical balance.
That is no surprise as Nietzsche himself edited and re-edited his thinking and his works. He was a dynamic thinker who repeatedly revised his own writing throughout his life. That made it difficult to create a definitive collection of his works.
As Nietzsche himself reviewed some of his earlier works, he wrote that they were fanatical, unreadable even.
The editors of coming collections also make widely differing selections of the philosopher’s works. One will issue a volume of facsimile pages handwritten as Nietzsche wrote them, printed on different kinds of paper. A second features the final print editions authorized by Nietzsche.
Each collection begs questions. Why does the Scheier collection exclude “Thus Spoke Zarathustra,” one of Nietzsche’s most famous works?
Mr. Schmid-Grépály’s collection excludes “The Antichrist” but features the twin piece “The Twilight of the Gods,” but not “Ecce Homo.”
Mr. Scheier includes Nietzsche’s prefaces and books, despite the philosopher’s seemingly light dismissal of them later on. At least he excludes the philosopher’s early “Untimely observations,” which Nietzsche later dismissed, though the other publishers include this work.
Nietzsche’s later works present tougher questions. His health declined rapidly and he approached a nervous breakdown as he was summing up his life’s work in “Ecce Homo.” It makes Schmid-Gépály’s decision problematic to call these the philosopher’s last words and use them as a guideline through his works.
Nietzsche was aware of the challenge. As he himself reviewed some of his earlier works, he wrote that they were fanatical, unreadable even.
Perhaps the best advice to publishers of Nietzsche’s work comes from Karl Schlechta, an earlier publisher and editor of the philosopher.
He decided that editors should reach their own conclusions about Nietzsche’s later years and suggested they take as their guide the title of one of Nietzsche’s essays called “Human, All Too Human.”
This article originally appeared in Tagesspiegel. To contact the author: [email protected]