A Strange Lag Among Nietzsche Commentators

I’ve been busy (too much so for blogging, sadly) with work on a volume on Nietzsche and political thought, which I am co-editing. More details when the publication tome comes closer. One thing I’ve noticed is an extraordinary tendency to quote from The Will to Power, a book of Nietzsche’s notes. That is notes arranged as if constituting a draft for s book, The Will to Power, that Nietzsche was not able to write in a more final version before the collapse of 1889, followed by mental and physical paralysis until his death in 1900. However, though he considered writing a book with that title, it was not a constant project, and he never wrote any notes or drafts for it. After Nietzsche’s death, his friend Peter Gast and his sister Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche collaborated on an edition of his notebooks with headings, section titles  and so on added, with sequential notes fused into single notes, so that the appearance of a draft book was obtained. It would be a very rough draft and I don’t think anyone has ever claimed that would be close to anything Nietzsche would have written is his career had continued for longer. Nevertheless, it did have considerable impact in commentary. Martin Heidegger’s longest work, his war time lectures on will to power in Nietzsche, drawn on the Gast and Förster-Nietzsche edition, as does Pierre Klossowski’s book Nietzsche and the Vicious Circle.

The translation of The Will to Power itself was quite slow coming, appearing first in 1967as a joint translation between Walter Kaufmann and R.J. Hollingdale. Kaufmann has had the biggest impact of any Nietzsche translator into English, and through his rather opinionated editorial apparatus in the translations, and writings on Nietzsche had a major role in taking Nietzsche from the margins of respectable philosophy. Part of the problem was the way Nietzsche was taken up by German ultra-nationalists of World War One, and Nazis during World War One. Nietzsche’s sister Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche had a hand in this. The Förster part of her surname comes from her husband, Bernhard who had died by the time of The Will to Power edition, and was a prominent anti-semite and ultranationalist who inaugurated a failed attempt at a pure German community in Paraguay. I don’t think The Will to Power is itself greatly distorted by an attempt to present Nietzsche along the lines of his sister’s politics. Nietzsche was himself strongly opposed to both German nationalism and anti-Semitism after his earliest writing anyway. There is a bit of that kind of thing in The Birth of Tragedy. Still no one now should be using the sister’s ideas about how to arrange the brother’s notes. Between them Gast and Förster-Nietzsche fused notes together, invented headings for those fused notes, and created a structure of divisions and sections which give the impression of work in progress towards a book. This is all carried forward in the Kaufmann-Hollingdale edition, for which Kaufmann have overall responsibility. Hollingdale himself was a a major translator of Nietzsche. Neither are really regarded as great commentators now. Kaufmann had more of a reputation in the first place, and educated some notable Nietzsche scholars at Princeton, but he is really only quoted now for straw man purposes, as a source of a weak argument to knock down. I don’t see any point in just quoting, or citing, someone for that purpose, but commentators do sometimes continue to do so.

There is a very excellent replacement for the Kaufmann-Hollingdale Will to Power based on Nietzsche’s notebooks with speculative fusions, headings, and structures added. Cambridge University Press has published translations of most of Nietzsche, though without putting out a collected works of Nietzsche,which would be a great thing. What they have published includes Nietzsche: Writing from the Early Notebooks (translated by Ladisaluus Löb, edited  by Raymond Geuss and Alexander Nehemas, 2009) and Nietzsche: Writings from the Late Notebooks (translated by Kate Sturge, edited by Rüdiger Bittner, 2003). So one volume has been available for 10 years and both have been available for 4 years. By now really all those with a serious interest in Nietzsche should have noticed, and should have abandoned the The Will to Power. I suppose one reason maybe that Kaufmann, who was a poet, had a more literary translation style, and it is a style unifying a number of translations. This cannot be a reason for using a completely outmoded collection of Nietzsche’s notes, and no is probably the time for the scholarly community to accept the CUP translations as standard in English. Despite there being good Nietzsche scholars who cling onto The Will to Power, it really does look anachronistic and could lead to suspicions of a lack o competence in following Nietzsche scholarship. Time to make the transition.

5 thoughts on “A Strange Lag Among Nietzsche Commentators

  1. Reblogged this on Progressive Geographies and commented:
    Some interesting thoughts on the way Anglophone commentators work with Nietzsche’s notebooks – works unpublished in his lifetime. I suppose one reason why The Will to Power, for all its problems, is still used is that not everything in there is available in translation. Writings from the Late Notebooks, good though it is, is only a partial sample of the Nachlaß, and not the same sample as The Will to Power. Also, if you’re reading a book that uses The Will to Power as its source, such as Heidegger’s reading of Nietzsche, then you need The Will to Power to check what he is referring to. The editor of Heidegger’s Nietzsche, David Farrell Krell talks of how hard it would have been for him to have changed or supplemented every reference to/with the Colli-Montinari edition of the Kritische Studienausgabe. There is a complete translation of the KSA coming out in English, with Stanford University Press, but it has been extremely slow in coming out. Only five volumes of a projected twenty (for reasons that escape me, they are not a direct one-to-one equivalent to the KSA) are out, two of which were in the past couple of years after a thirteen year gap. See http://www.sup.org/browse.cgi?x=series&y=The%20Complete%20Works%20of%20Friedrich%20Nietzsche . I completely agree that The Will to Power is outdated, and really serious work should not be using it, but there are reasons why it is still a useful reference tool. Let’s hope that Stanford complete their translation project soon, so it can finally be put to rest.

    • Thanks Stuart, I agree with what you say and thanks for drawing attention to the Stanford edition which I’ve sen around, but only for Human, All Too Human, and I’d’forgotten who published it. I hope Stanford finish the project, but since the existing volumes have made very little impact, it may not be solution. It may need another academic publisher to launch a very large project.

  2. I’ve always found TWTP to be rather too fragmented and discontinuous to be read as a whole (despite the best efforts of its editors). I don’t even read it in order. I see it as more of an anthology than a complete book per se — and, taken in that light, is there anything really that wrong with it? It doesn’t form a ‘chapter’ in the story of Nietzsche’s work in quite the same way that his complete books do but it’s full of fascinating bits and pieces nevertheless.

    • Thanks for your comment Philip. It may not look like a book, but the notes have been arranged as far as possible to look like the beginnings of a book and thi is a distortion. It must be better to use editions which are more oriented to the order that Nietzsche wrote his notes.

  3. We are now in 2017… and not much happening with Complete Works of Friedrich Nietsche by Stanford University Press. Is Stanford University Press doing it by handwriting? In middle ages one could possibly expect one book per year…not so with this publisher…Hope that the silence would not evnelope this important cultural project.

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