Nietzsche and the Metaphysics of the Tragic. By Nuno Nabais Metaphysics without Truth: On the Importance of Consistency within Nietzsche's Philosophy. By Stefan Lorenz Sorgner
Article first published online: 16 FEB 2009
© The author 2009. Journal compilation © Trustees for Roman Catholic Purposes Registered 2009
The Heythrop Journal
Volume 50, Issue 2, pages 349–351, March 2009
How to Cite
Ray, M. (2009), Nietzsche and the Metaphysics of the Tragic. By Nuno Nabais Metaphysics without Truth: On the Importance of Consistency within Nietzsche's Philosophy. By Stefan Lorenz Sorgner. The Heythrop Journal, 50: 349–351. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-2265.2009.00460_33.x
- Issue published online: 16 FEB 2009
- Article first published online: 16 FEB 2009
Pp. xiv, 204 , London , Continuum , 2006 , $46.49.
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Certain questions might be asked of any author who has written on Nietzsche's philosophy, of which possibly one of the most important for the historian of philosophy is: Which other philosophers, if any, does the author tend to assimilate Nietzsche to, or discuss the thought of Nietzsche in the terms of? In the case of Nuno Nabais, the other authors he brings into his exceptional book, Nietzsche and the Metaphysics of the Tragic, are chiefly (though not only) Richard Wagner and Arthur Schopenhauer, which is, in fact, exactly as it should be, as these truly were the most formative philosophical and cultural influences upon the early Nietzsche and serve to set the scene in an entirely appropriate and highly informative way. Seeing Wagner's neo-Schopenhauerian Beethoven essay as, in certain ways (particularly in its anti-Hanslickian transfer of music into the category of the sublime), a mediating link between Schopenhauerian thought and Nietzsche's The Birth of Tragedy was, in particular, decidedly instructive.
Having said that, we must point out that Nabais begins his beautifully written book (which is, also, beautifully translated by Martin Earl) with a discussion not of Schopenhauer and Wagner, however, but of Habermas and Lyotard. This is in order to situate Nietzsche with respect to postmodern discourse by means of suggesting that the boundary between modernity and postmodernity be drawn within Kant's critical thought itself (very broadly speaking, it associated with the boundary between the beautiful and the sublime) and not between Kant and Nietzsche. One implication of this is that in returning to Kant to outflank Nietzsche, Habermas is, according to Nabais, only recreating the antinomies he seeks to escape (p. 7). Another implication is that Nietzsche's Dionysian/Apollo polarity in The Birth of Tragedy, figures not only the Kantian and Schopenhauerian distinction between reality and appearance but also the Kantian and then Schopenhauerian distinction between the sublime and the beautiful, with the resultant identification between the sublime and reality, and thus accordingly also the sublime and truth (p. 10). This view of The Birth of Tragedy as an essentially neo-Schopenhauerian metaphysical work by Nietzsche seems to the present reviewer, however, to be severely problematised if one takes into account – as Nabais does not – Nietzsche's unpublished 1868 essay ‘On Schopenhauer’ which contains pronounced reservations and harsh criticisms of the metaphysics of the Schopenhauerian system. This has lead many recent scholars of The Birth of Tragedy– I mention here only Porter, Poellner and Han – to believe that Nietzsche, despite all appearances in that text, is not really a Schopenhauerian in The Birth of Tragedy at all but must be doing something like using Schopenhauerian categories and concepts to erect a kind of culturally justified new mythology.
Nietzsche and the Metaphysics of the Tragic then proceeds to deal with the problem of individuality and individuation in Nietzsche, and therein sees Nietzsche as returning to a Schopenhauerian argument from analogy in his establishment of the metaphysical will-to-power (pp. 50–51). Yet other chapters deal with the theme of necessity in the early Nietzsche, and one of particular interest concerns Nietzsche's relationship with the Stoics. Perhaps the most radical thesis of Nietzsche and the Metaphysics of the Tragic, though, is that Thus Spoke Zarathustra explicates a philosophy (particularly in the figures of our relationship to time and the eternal recurrence of the same) that will actually be outgrown by Nietzsche. The line of argument is, put very basically, that in Thus Spoke Zarathustra morality is envisioned as being born out of a resentment on the part of man against nature, or more particularly against time because of the will's inability to revoke its irretrievable acts. This is a very unusual but actually deeply convincing reading, though it should be mentioned that it is a reading at least partially anticipated by at least one other author: Maurice Blanchot, in his essay on Nietzsche entitled ‘The Limits of Experience: Nihilism’, has similarly argued that according to Nietzsche réssentiment is conditioned by chronological rather than strictly anthropological factors.
Be that as it may, the eternal recurrence is, around this time, seen as a response to nihilism by Nietzsche. This would then be replaced, especially in On the Genealogy of Morals, by the much better known notion that it is embitterment against other (if Nietzsche is to be believed, better) men that begins the process of moral creation (p. 141.) Thus is explained the well known note (section 55) from the Will to Power: ‘it is the experience of being powerless against men, not against nature, that generates the most desperate embitterment against existence.’ An effect of this replacement is that the eternal return will not only be sidelined by the later Nietzsche but even itself placed into the history of nihilism. This thesis will no doubt provide a lot of provocation for Nietzsche scholars but the notion that Thus Spoke Zarathustra incorporates a philosophy that will be replaced at least seems corroborated by Nietzsche himself in a letter to Overbeck on April 7th 1884, where he says that Daybreak and The Gay Science– which most would regard as being texts belonging not to Nietzsche's fully mature philosophy – are the commentary to Zarathustra (‘I did the commentary before writing the text’).
In establishing his thesis, some scholars may feel that Nabais has focussed disproportionately on one posthumously published note (the Lenzer Heide fragment). However, it seems fair to say in Nabais' defence that this lengthy note deals with extremely important themes and that it was written around the same time as On the Genealogy of Morals, genuinely appearing to shed some light on that crucial triptych of essays. Finally, it would be unfair not to remark at this point that Nabais' text is one of the best books on Nietzsche the present reviewer has ever read.
Stefan Lorenz Sorgner's Metaphysics without Truth: On the Importance of Consistency within Nietzsche's Philosophy is a very different book to that of Nuno Nabais. More modest in its scope, Metaphysics without Truth forages largely in Nietzsche's unpublished notes to bring us a predominantly metaphysical reading of Nietzsche and aims to show why we should listen to Nietzsche, despite the fact his thought is self-consciously not ‘the Truth’. On a wider note, engaging with these posthumous notes seems always to naturally recreate a Nietzsche fascinated by central questions of epistemology and metaphysics (rather than, e.g. morality and religion), which explains why both Heidegger and Klowosski depend on the unpublished material so much. Sorgner's Nietzsche, though, is one who posits an ontology of power-quanta not entirely unlike Leibnitzian monads (pp. 50, 92), and who forwards a metaphysical rather than simply ethical reading of the eternal recurrence of the same (p. 66). Thus, whereas the Nietzsche of Nabais is in certain respects a neo-Schopenhauerian, Sorgner's Nietzsche is a neo-Leibnitzean. Sorgner's readings are very rigorously argued, and exceptionally lucidly presented.
Sorgner, like Heidegger, is best on these strictly metaphysical elements of Nietzsche, as found in the Nachlass, and some extremely difficult posthumously published metaphysical material is presented very clearly here. However, Sorgner's reading of the slave revolt in morals as detailed in On the Genealogy of Morals, seemed to this reader to be imprecise. For instance, Sorgner's interpretation of the slave revolt seems to be that originally ‘the physically strong were able to do whatever they desired’ and the physically weak, the slaves, had to obey them. The priests are explicitly seen as a sub-class of slaves (pp. 54–55), a sub-class who then invent the fiction of morality and of another, punitive, world. However, the priests, according to Nietzsche in On the Genealogy of Morals, seem to have been actually part of the ruling class, who then break from the physically strong (and commentators such as Staten and Kofman have pointed out here the lack of reason they have for doing so) and then go on to enlist the slaves to dominate the so-called masters.
Such relatively minor issues aside, it must be mentioned that Sorgner's Metaphysics without Truth also gives us a very enlightening discussion of nihilism, and at the end explains why we should listen to Nietzsche, given that Nietzsche admits that his thought is not ‘the Truth’. Sorgner's answer seems to be that Nietzsche's world view will appeal to people because it is consistent and scientific and that the spirit of the times is a scientific one (p. 150). Thus Sorgner at p. 142 quotes Nietzsche in The Anti-Christ pitting Christianity against science: ‘science, the sound conception of cause and effect’. However, this view is surely rendered problematic by the fact that Nietzsche himself – following Hume – in some of his moods casts doubt against the very cause and effect nexus, and in yet other moods casts doubt against the value of science itself: both in its methods and even (if Deleuze is to be believed) its results, which perhaps serves to remind us that readings of Nietzsche seem to stand or fall as more or less plausible reconstructions of but one strand of Nietzsche's multifaceted thought.