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Intepretations of Nietzsche

Lecturers: Sean Ryan, Jon Roffe, Ashley Woodward, Matthew Sharpe and Mark Tomlinson

Originally Taught: Winter School 2008

Friedrich Nietzsche has been one of the most influential figures in continental philosophy, and his work continues holds a powerful fascination. Yet his writings are notoriously ambiguous, and have given rise to many radically different interpretations. The aim of this subject is to survey some of the most influential interpretations of Nietzsche throughout the Twentieth Century, which have often been offered by philosophers who are highly significant thinkers in their own right. Each day focuses on a different major philosopher's interpretation, and is taught by a lecturer with special expertise on that topic.

Monday - Heidegger's Nietzsche (Sean Ryan)
Heidegger's interpretation of Nietzsche was an immense and prolonged affair. The twenty five years that Heidegger devoted to Nietzsche produced half a dozen lecture courses, several seminars, two important essays, and finally, in 1961, a two-volume book. Yet at the end, in an illuminating aside, Heidegger also confessed to Hans-Georg Gadamer that “Nietzsche destroyed me.”

The first hour of the lecture will be devoted to those theses of Heidegger's interpretation of Nietzsche that still remain provocative, in particular: the relationship between nihilism and the question of being; and the assertion that Nietzsche's thinking is the end of metaphysics. In the second hour we shall look at Heidegger's final and most considered work on Nietzsche, the essay “Who is Nietzsche's Zarathustra?” in which that interpretation is developed in relation to the following: the relationship of humanity and divinity, of poetry and philosophy, and of propositions and riddles; the themes of life, suffering and revenge; and the meaning of the demand that we assume mastery of the earth.

Tuesday – Deleuze's Nietzsche (Jon Roffe)
Gilles Deleuze's Nietzsche and Philosophy, published in 1962, was a major landmark in the revival of interest in Nietzsche's thought in France. Not only did this text provide a key point of reference for a number of other thinkers in this milieu (including Derrida, Klossowski and Foucault), but it also presents the initial formulation of a number of Deleuze's own distinctive philosophical claims.

In the first hour of this lecture, we will examine the strategies of Nietzsche and Philosophy itself as a fascinating systematic reading of Nietzsche, focusing in particular on the account of the will-to-power. In the second, we will turn to Deleuze's key work, Difference and Repetition, to examine how the structural account of the will-to-power from the earlier work evolves into what Deleuze calls virtual multiplicities, but also to look at the profound meditations on the theme of the eternal return, which underpin the entirety of the project of Difference and Repetition.

Wednesday – Klossowski's Nietzsche (Dr Ashley Woodward)
Along with Deleuze, the philosopher, writer, translator, and artist Pierre Klossowski (1905-2001) was one of the key interpreters associated with the “Nietzsche revival” in France in the 1960s and 70s. Klossowski translated Heidegger's lectures on Nietzsche, and authored the celebrated book Nietzsche and the Vicious Circle (1969). This seminar focuses on the surprising reading of Nietzsche Klossowski develops in this book. Dwelling on the relationship between Nietzsche's ill health and his philosophical thought, Klosowski develops a radical theory of the relationship between the body, thought and language. For Klossowski's Nietzsche, conscious thought expressed in language (the “code of everyday signs”) is a misinterpretation of the body's impulses. The philosopher needs to develop a “semiotic of impulses” which treats thoughts as signs, and allows us to correctly interpret the bodily impulses from which they arise. Klossowski's Nietzsche thus takes the side of the body, against conscious thought and language, as the true locus of philosophical significance. Furthermore, Klossowski develops an influential reading of the eternal return as a thought which radically disrupts the unity of subjectivity.

Thursday – Strauss's Nietzsche (Dr Mathew Sharpe)
Due to his political influence on the neoconservative Right, Leo Strauss is presently emerging as one of the most influential and controversial philosophers of the twentieth century.  Strauss's attitude to Nietzsche is particularly intriguing.  In “What is Political Philosophy?” and elsewhere, Strauss criticises Nietzsche as the culmination of a “third wave” of modern thought (cf. Plato, REP. Book V: someone whose thought leads in the direction of nihilistic relativism, and away from political life.  Yet Strauss grew up enamoured with Nietzsche.  Leading Strauss students such as Lawrence Lampert and Stanley Rosen have noted, and drawn from, Strauss's own debt to Nietzsche, in terms of Strauss's understandings of modernity, philosophy, religion, and esoteric writing.  In Strauss's last book, Studies in Platonic Political Philosophy, his remarkable “Notes on the Plan of Beyond Good and Evil” literally has the central place.  Strauss argues that this text--apparently wholly aphoristic--is Nietzsche's most “beautiful” or even “Platonic,” in its form: and every bit the “Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future” its subtitle announces.

The first half of this lecture will be devoted to dealing with what it is tempting to surmise is Strauss's exoteric dismissal of Nietzsche, in terms of his understanding of modern thought.

The second half will look at “Notes on the Plan to Beyond Good and Evil,” and see what it is that Strauss and his students espy in Nietzsche, in contravention of the other moderns.

Emphasis will be made throughout to how Strauss's reading of Nietzsche compares and contrasts with the other readings we look at in the course, with a view to the politics of (Nietzschean) philosophy in particular.

Friday - Nehamas's Nietzsche (Mark Tomlinson)
While it has most often fallen to the Continent, to France and to Germany, to produce the most thoughtful readings of Nietzsche, the last three decades have seen a number of interesting interpretations emerge from the Anglo-American tradition. One of the most important and influential of these has been Alexander Nehamas's Nietzsche: Life as Literature (1985).

The first half of this lecture will trace the major contours of Nehamas's book. In particular, it will focus on the role that the question of Nietzsche's style plays in Nehamas's reading. In the second half, we will cast a more critical eye over the text. Here it will be suggested that the apparent strength of Nehamas's work – its ability to present a coherent, single Nietzsche – is perhaps its biggest weakness.

Please note: While all are welcome to attend, this course is not designed as a first introduction to Nietzsche, and is most suitable for those who already have some acquaintance with his work.


10 Jan - 18 Feb Summer School 2022

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Winter School 2008