Monday, August 31, 2015

The New Prefaces

"In this book you will discover a 'subterranean man' at work, one who tunnels and mines and undermines. You will see him - presupposing you have eyes capable of seeing this work in the depths - going forward slowly, cautiously, gently inexorable, without betraying very much of the distress which any protractors deprivation of light and air must entail; you might even call him contented, working there in the dark." So begins the new preface for Daybreak. Nietzsche makes it plain that he is critiquing his work and his working methods from the beginning, putting present context into his past thought in order to show an alleged progression to the point where he found himself in 1887.

In that year Nietzsche republished his initial works in two phases.  First came Daybreak and The Gay Science with its new Book Five.  Human, All-too-Human and The Birth of Tragedy followed a few months later. Each "new edition" of these works contained a new preface.  Each preface ended with a date and/or location.  The new preface for Human, All-too-Human was completed at Nice in the spring of 1886. The Birth of Tragedy's preface is dated August 1886, likely completed at Sils-Maria.  The new Daybreak preface ends: "Ruta, near Genoa, in the autumn of 1886," as does The Gay Science.

But the idea for new prefaces had occupied him for some time.  He actually made notes for a new preface to Human, All-Too-Human in 1885. These prefaces are generally Nietzsche's first attempt at the self-critique of his work.  As his "will to power" crystallized, he became increasingly aware of inconsistencies with his current philosophical explorations compared to his thinking prior to Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1883-1886).

In Ecce Homo (1888) he would become a master at (often sarcastic) self-evaluation and self-critique, but for now he seemed torn between an honest appraisal and a re-framing of original intentions that was sometimes disingenuous and somewhat apologetic in ways no different from most any other person who, in hindsight, attempts to say their changed perspective really isn't that different, just evolved.  These new prefaces show the extent to which Nietzsche himself was "human, all-too-human" as we have already seen at other times in his life, such as the Lou Salome affair.

All four books were re-bound from the bountiful stock of first editions that had gone unsold.  Only The Birth of Tragedy had seen a second printing (1872 and 1878) and its initial popularity waned as his friendship with Richard Wagner deteriorated.  Everything else Nietzsche had written had only sold, at most, a couple of hundred copies each, many of those were given away by Nietzsche personally.

It should be noted that the first three parts of Thus Spoke Zarathustra were published together for the first time by the end of 1886.  Nietzsche did not write a new preface for this new edition.  Perhaps this was because, unlike the other works, Zarathustra, being presented as a kind of parable, does not have a preface but rather a formal "prologue" instead.

According to Julian Young: "Nietzsche had several complimentary motives for this re-presentation of all his work to date.  Nietzsche hoped that rebinding the old copies with new prefaces would give them 'new wings' and so generate 'new interest, from a book-dealing point of view'. A second, less commercial, motive lay in Nietzsche's certainty that he was 'by far the most independent thinker of the present age, one who thinks far more than any other in the grand style'. A final motive was provided by the sense that he had reached a turning point in his career.  On completing the project of self-re-presentation he felt that 'a phase of my life has come to an end' so that 'now I have the whole, enormous task before me.  Before me and, still more, on top of me'.  As we know this enormous task, this work 'in the grand style' that would systematically sum up his entire philosophy, was to bear the grandiose title, The Will to Power: Attempt at a Revaluation of all Values." (page 437)

Of all the new prefaces, Nietzsche was probably most critical of The Birth of Tragedy whose subtitle he altered from reading "Out of the Spirit of Music" to "The Greek Spirit and Pessimism."  He began that new preface with: "Whatever might have been the basis for this dubious book, it must have been a question of the utmost importance and charm, as well as a deeply personal one.  Testimony to that effect is the time in which it arose (in spite of which it arose), that disturbing era of the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71. While the thunderclap of the Battle of Worth was reverberating across Europe, the meditative lover of enigmas whose lot it was to father this book sat somewhere in the corner of the Alps, extremely reflective and perplexed (thus simultaneously distressed and carefree) and wrote down his thoughts concerning the Greeks, the kernel of that odd and difficult book to which this preface (and postscript) should be dedicated."

Nietzsche was attempting to be honestly self-critical and to a large degree he succeeded.  This self-reflection on the evolution of his metaphysical thought reminds us that the act of self-critique became part of who Nietzsche was up to Ecce Homo.  But, as honest as he tries to be when commentating on his early thought, Julian Young finds Nietzsche's attempt at honest self-reflection is valid but with mixed results.

"...their point is to present 'a kind of narrative of spiritual development', a Bildungsroman, a story of his 'self-education' that will be exemplary for Germans (and Western modernity as a whole). In the prefaces Nietzsche seeks to present himself as a spiritual hero. But, as The Gay Science observes, to discover the hero that is 'concealed in everyday characters' one needs artistic 'distance' from one's subject matter to avoid losing the forest on account of the trees.  Aesthetic distance means, however, that 'there is a good deal one no longer sees, and much our eye has to add if we are to see anything at all'.  In a word, one needs to fake things a bit.  It follows, then, that we should not expect scholarly accuracy from the 1886 prefaces.  In order for him to present himself as a 'monumental', exemplary figure, the thinker he portrays has to be a certain degree, like all role models, an artistic fiction." (pp. 437-438)

The prefaces are Nietzsche's first serious attempt what we would term today as "branding" or "marketing" himself.  He seeks to steer the narrative of his published life toward his present thinking, sometimes in ways that are not completely accurate.

"The problem is not that Nietzsche ungenerously lambastes the style of the book - 'badly written, clumsy, embarrassing, with a rage for imagery and confused in its imagery, emotional, here and there sugary to the point of effeminacy'.  It is rather that he tries to modulate a work which, as we saw, is every bit as committed to metaphysical idealism and to pessimism about human life as is Schopenhauer into a work whose true message is naturalism and life-affirmation.  That message, he claims, 'fundamentally ran counter to both spirit and taste of Kant and Schopenhauer' but was spoilt by the attempt to express it 'in Schopenhauerian and Kantian formulations'.  Trying, for the sake of his narrative, to paint a picture of the 'true' Nietzsche already present, in embryo, in The Birth, he gives a thoroughly unreliable account of its content. It is notable that the new Book 5 of The Gay Science, written at the same time but not under the same constraints, is much more accurate: 'It may be recalled, at least among my friends, that initially I approached the modern world (and in particular)...the philosophical pessimism of the nineteenth century as if it were a symptom of a higher force of thought'.

"Similarly, in the new preface to Human, All-too-Human' he seeks to suggest he was never really either a Schopenhauerian or a Wagnerian.  Lacking courage he later acquired to face up to the isolation of the radical thinker, he suggests, 'I knowingly-willfully closed my eyes before Schopenhauer's blind will....Likewise I deceived myself over Richard Wagner's incurable romanticism, as though it were a beginning and not an end'.

"Actually, though, Nietzsche's attitude to Wagner was much more nuanced than this.  Less than a month after writing this he wrote...Overbeck...affirming his continuing belief 'in the ideal in which Wagner believed' and saying that it was only the 'human-all-too-human' in Wagner over which he 'stumbled'.  In an important sense he never said farewell to Wagner. But the idea of a dramatic and total break makes a better story." (pp. 438-439)

By 1886, Friedrich Nietzsche had a clear vision of where he wanted to go.  It was a complicated goal and so he wrote hundreds of pages of notes about his multifaceted ideas surrounding the will to power.  He did not yet know how to express the full spectrum of his intent so he continued setting the table with Beyond Good and Evil (1886) and On the Genealogy of Morals (1887).  These works served as prologue for the core of his thought.  He had to articulate and project the fundamentals of his perspective before he could fully express his grand and "dangerous" ideas.

The new prefaces written for the new editions of his unsold books were an attempt to position Nietzsche's other fundamental tenets (the ├╝bermensch, amor fati, eternal recurrence, etc.) as assorted manifestations of the will to power. The past did not line up perfectly, but the single path of philosophical progression does make for the appearance of a consistent system and much of what Nietzsche wrote in these prefaces reflects a profound capacity for self-critique and depth of understanding about the implications of his earlier thought.  This is a distinctive aspect of Nietzsche's perspective and his way of thinking.

It is revealing to note that Nietzsche did not carry copies of his books around with him during his nomadic travels to the mountains in summer and to the sea in winter.  So most of these prefaces were written from memory, without the benefit of having the book in front of him as a reference. In 1886, perhaps his memory was good enough to recollect what he had previously written.  This was not the case in 1887 and 1888, the years leading up to his insanity. It is enough to make one wonder if his waning memory was symptomatic of the larger neurological issues he began to experience at this time.

Rudiger Safranski explains and offers some insight into Nietzsche's intimate connection with his life's work: "We need to keep in mind that Nietzsche, who spent much of his time traveling from place to place, had boxes of books shipped to him, but did not always have his own earlier books and often found that his memory of what he had written had faded. Sometimes Nietzsche shied away from reading his own writings. In 1886, the year in which he added a series of prefaces to his earlier books, he wrote to Gast: 'It seems lucky in retrospect that I had neither Human, All-too-Human nor The Birth of Tragedy on hand when I wrote those prefaces.  Just between us, I can no longer stand that stuff.' This remark was written in a fit of depression. Two years later, during his final autumn in Turin, when he was brimming with euphoria after reading his earlier works, he wrote to Gast: 'For the past four weeks, I have finally understood my own writings; not only that, I admire them.  In all seriousness, I really never knew what they signify.  I would be lying if I said that they (apart from Zarathustra) had impressed me' (Dec. 22, 1888). During the summer of that year, he asked Meta von Salis for a copy of On the Genealogy of Morals, which had been published the previous year.  Rereading this book, which was barely one year old, induced him to remark: 'I was astonished when I first looked at it....Essentially, I remembered only the titles of the three treatises; the rest, which is to say the content, had gone right out of my head' (Aug 22, 1888). The frequent repetitions in Nietzsche's works are partly attributable to the fact that he simply forgot what he had already written." (pp. 298-299)

With the prefaces written and the new editions available, Nietzsche completed his next great work, On the Genealogy of Morals. We will examine this book first from the perspective of R. J. Hollingdale. But Hollingdale requires us to initially look back at Beyond Good and Evil once again, as he considers the two books to be so closely related that one cannot be completely understood without the other.