Werner Stegmaier

After Montinari: On Nietzsche Philology

Translated by Lisa Marie Anderson


Nietzsche wrote in Human, All Too Human: “The worst readers are those who behave like plundering troops: they take away a few things they can use, dirty and confound the remainder, and revile the whole” (AOM 137). Nonetheless, Nietzsche’s interpreters have, to a large extent and to this day, proceeded in just this way. Instead, Nietzsche demanded that one read his aphorisms and aphorism books slowly and thoroughly within the contexts in which he placed them and, further, that one always be attuned, in this reading, to new surprises. This article advocates for such a contextual interpretation of Nietzsche’s works (in which Zarathustra’s speeches are also considered forms of aphorism). This interpretation must be penetrating enough to clear away the ostensible ambivalence and contradiction with which Nietzsche’s work is so often maligned. While notes that Nietzsche did not intend for publication can offer important assistance, they should not themselves become the basis of such an interpretation.

1. What Nietzsche Expects of a Philology for His Philosophy: Patience and Courage for Surprises

Nietzsche has laid out in two aphorisms how he should be read. The aphorisms were written in the same time period, 1886–87. In the famous final aphorism to the new preface to Daybreak (P:5), he demands that one learn to read him patiently. [Endnote 1] What he has to say, he says only “slowly”; he writes like he thinks (and thus makes no differentiation between his book and himself); and he expects that what he has to say will be read “slowly,” as well. The philology out of which he comes has led him, he says, to this slow manner of writing, and this philology is further the “art” of “reading slowly.” He aims to bring anyone who “is in a hurry” to the point of desperation. Only readers who “take their time,” he says, who devote themselves reclusively and patiently to his writings and can thus engage in “delicate, cautious work,” will be able to endure him. By “delicate” Nietzsche means delicate differences, differentiations of differentiations to the point of the most delicate “nuances,” which are no longer attributable to the concept itself but are, rather, a matter of “taste.” [Endnote 2] To show “caution” means to anticipate surprises; Nietzsche brings this into tension with “work” that is done in “haste,” which “wants to ‘get everything done’ at once” and thus has no appreciation for surprises. A patient philology, on the other hand, does “not so easily get anything done” and does not aim at a conclusive and definitive end. Instead, it follows up on “reservations,” keeps open the “doors” behind which something else, something unexpected, can reveal itself. A patient philology reads not only with its “eyes” but also with “delicate fingers,” perceives words in their physical and sensual power of transmission, as well—a power that itself opens new doors. Nietzsche wished for such “perfect readers and philologists,” for this was the way one would have to learn to read him. [Endnote 3]

Written just slightly later, the 381st aphorism from book 5 of The Gay Science, “On the Question of Being Understandable,” can be seen as a pendant to the final aphorism of the new preface to D. It concerns the “brevity” of Nietzsche’s texts, which is necessitated by their “matter,” by the “shyness and ticklishness” of thoughts before which one recoils as before cold water, so that one can touch them only briefly: [Endnote 4] these are “truths” “that must be surprised or left alone” (GS 381). Nietzsche’s philosophy surprises us with truths that others did not dare to think, with the histories and abysses of philosophical thought itself. Thus readers of his work need not only patience for philological surprises but courage as well for philosophical surprises. This courage, the courage to call one’s own thinking repeatedly into question, is even less to be expected “of ‘just anybody’” than is patience (GS 381). Philosophical surprises like the ones Nietzsche offers to his readers endanger those habits of thought without which one believes one cannot live, which arise out of “need” and are necessary not just for thought but for life, as they come into contact with self-preservation. [Endnote 5] Life necessities are not true or false. They border on thought before it can engage at all with scientific, logical necessities; they determine the range and scope of thought necessities. The more one relies on thought necessities one cannot live without, which then become habits of thought, the less one can call them into question or even allow them to be called into question, the less one can engage with Nietzsche. And Nietzsche wants to leave those thought necessities to those who rely on them. He writes that he does not want to spoil anyone’s “innocence” but wants instead to “inspire” this philosophical innocence in those who are capable of living only in it. He “does not wish to be understood” by “asses” or “old maids of both sexes.” The fact that they do not and cannot understand him is what produces his “style.” He creates “distance” through his “more subtle laws,” forbids “‘entrance,’ understanding.” He includes some readers and excludes others; he selects them, “chooses” them. Whoever cannot endure his perilous but only quickly flashing truths can easily ignore them.

For this reason, Nietzsche does not secure his truths in accordance with the habits of science. He abstains completely from scientific padding; from preliminary theses and summary conclusions; from coherent, hierarchically ordered arguments; from citing sources and situating himself among fields of research; from scholarly debates with dissenting opinions in research (here he is served instead mostly by polemics); from explanatory notes (Nietzsche’s mature works contain hardly any notes, though in one he formulates a research program for the science of the genealogy of morals [Endnote 6]); and even from any fixed terminology. [Endnote 7] Even (and perhaps especially) scholars can be “asses,” can dismiss a limine as “adventures” anything that makes them uneasy in their habits of thought. Nietzsche’s dangerous “truths” are still perceived by most, even by Nietzsche initiates, as adventurous and are dismissed as such; courage for his philosophical surprises is still rare.

2. Nietzsche’s Philosophy of Surprises: A Temporal Philosophy of Time

In the two aphorisms examined here, taken together, Nietzsche is demanding that his reader combine slowness in reading with “swiftness” and the “greatest possible suppleness” in thought (GS 381), that one crouch patiently on the lookout in one’s reading, so as to be able to snatch things up swiftly in his thought. Finally, in Ecce Homo, Nietzsche imagines the “perfect reader” of his work in the figure of a beast of prey: “When I imagine a perfect reader, he always turns into a beast of courage and curiosity; moreover, supple, cunning, cautious; a born adventurer and discoverer” (EH “Books” 3). Courage for surprises, for adventures, for unexpectedly and dangerously new things in thought, means forgoing all firm constancy, anything timeless, even metaphysics. In the tradition of Heraclitus, Nietzsche grappled more unreservedly than any other with time, with the temporality of all things and all thought about things. In the nineteenth century, radical affirmation of temporality was the philosophical response to Darwin’s theory of evolution, as well. Nietzsche furthered philosophical thought about that theory’s principle of biological life as a struggle of individuals with individuals for the procreation of new individuals—as selection among individuals. If Darwin did without the postulate of timeless biological species, the mature Nietzsche did without the postulate of timeless generalities altogether and broke in this sense with all metaphysics. [Endnote 8] But if one does without timeless generalities altogether, then individuals are exposed immediately to each other and to time; they are for each other wills to power that redefine themselves again and again in their struggle with each other. If “laws are absolutely lacking,” as Nietzsche says in Beyond Good and Evil, then “every power draws its ultimate consequences at every moment” (BGE 22). With his philosophical thinking of these wills to power, Nietzsche pulls every timeless generality back into temporal individuality. [Endnote 9]

And he carried out his radical philosophy of temporality, for its part, on consistently temporal terms, presuming no “pure” subject of philosophy with a “pure” understanding of itself. [Endnote 10] The first sentence of the preface to On the Genealogy of Morals holds: “We remain unknown to ourselves, we seekers after knowledge, even to ourselves” (GM P:1). The reason for this lies, Nietzsche says, in knowledge itself. Seekers after knowledge, even and especially philosophers, forget themselves in their search for knowledge, lose sight of themselves, become blind to themselves. In order to “bring home” knowledge, they must suppress the “experiences” that attune knowledge for them and thus have neither the “seriousness” nor the “time” for them. They remain “necessarily a mystery” to themselves (GM P:1). But if they, like Nietzsche, reflect upon just this fact, then they too will be surprised by themselves (Ecce Homo, the genealogy of Nietzsche’s own thought, is a singular expression of this surprise), will encounter themselves as another, and thus as a competing, will to power. Nietzsche thinks through not only the objects of knowledge and knowledge itself but also sheer thought as a will-to-power-event that takes place involuntarily, before one arrives at logical determinations, and of which one is far more the captive than the master. [Endnote 11]

Even thought, “little reason” as an “instrument and toy” of the “great reason of the body” (Z I:4), is always tied to situations and has its time therein. Nietzsche takes this temporality of thought unreservedly seriously for his own philosophy. His own writings become foreign to him over time; when he rereads them, he discovers them again and is himself surprised by them. Thus he takes up thoughts again and again in his work and thinks through them in new contexts and in new directions. Even his own philosophizing is a radically temporal one and is intended as such. Nietzsche understands every increase in temporal distance as an increase in distance to self and thus as an increase in self-critique or self-overcoming, which is in turn an increase in the scope of philosophizing. [Endnote 12] Self-critique is an “overcoming” inasmuch as, for Nietzsche too (at least at times), self-determinations are necessary for life, to the extent that he too is an “ass.” [Endnote 13]

3. Philology Beyond Methodical Apriorities: Communication Among Wills to Power

A philology that aims to do justice to Nietzsche’s philosophy must be attuned to the radical temporality of the latter and must therefore do without all methodical apriorities. Nietzsche understood “philology” in the sense of the Ritschl school: keeping one’s own interpretations, as they impose themselves involuntarily, as far away as possible from the texts—and philosophically from the facts, as well. “What is here meant by philology,” he writes in The Antichrist, “is, in a very broad sense, the art of reading well—of reading facts without falsifying them by interpretation, without losing caution, patience, delicacy, in the desire to understand. Philology as ephexis in interpretation—whether it is a matter of books, the news in a paper, destinies, or weather conditions, not to speak of the ‘salvation of the soul’” (A 52). [Endnote 14]

Nietzsche determines philology only negatively, and since a philology of his philosophy refers not to canonical texts but, rather, to texts that concertedly explode all canons, it too cannot be determined positively. It cannot concoct a priori rules of its methods but must rather respond to surprising discoveries with surprising methods. It can thus always break down before the texts without even knowing whether it has broken down. For even in his communications as a writer, Nietzsche proceeds consistently from wills to power, which cannot help but understand differently and thus must always misunderstand each other. He communicates this emphatically to his readers. He grants them, as he says in BGE 27, “some leeway and romping place for misunderstanding” and is “cordially grateful for the good will to some subtlety of interpretation.” At the same time, though, he surprises his readers—whom he addresses repeatedly as “friends,” thereby attributing to them benevolence toward and faith in his communications—by insulting them: he can “even laugh—or get rid of them altogether, these good friends—and also laugh” (BGE 27). 15 It is certainly a condition of any Nietzsche “philology” that one be a “friend,” ϕíλος, of Nietzsche’s “words,” his λóγοι. “Good friends,” however, as Nietzsche calls them here, tend to understand each other “well” out of long-established habit, to make each other “relax” and to believe “that as friends they have a right to relax” (BGE 27). “Good friends” of Nietzsche’s writings no longer count on the surprises in them but, rather, depend on wellrehearsed routines and methods of reading and understanding—and thus run the risk of misunderstanding Nietzsche completely and becoming laughable in his eyes. Beyond Good and Evil 27 puts Nietzsche philologists in a double bind: they will only read Nietzsche well with the benevolence and trust of a friend; but they may not trust in this friendship to which Nietzsche constantly invites them. [Endnote 16] They may be friends only with reservations and only for a time, may be only cautious friends. Nietzsche’s “good friends” are not already “good readers” of Nietzsche, the good readers he says he deserves, readers who read him “the way the good old philologists read their Horace” (EH “Books” 5). It is when one believes most firmly to have understood Nietzsche that one runs the greatest risk of misunderstanding him. A philology that does justice to Nietzsche’s philosophy is a philology without assurances.

4. Antiphilology I: Expecting Timeless Doctrines of Nietzsche’s Philosophy

It is precisely because Nietzsche makes it difficult to understand his philosophy that it requires interpretation, and interpretations are only accepted if the interpreters who put them forth are reasonably sure of them (this will be the case for the interpretation I am presenting here, as well). And Nietzsche interpreters must not only be reasonably sure of their interpretations; they must also “finish” them within a limited time, to the extent that they formulate them in lectures, essays, or books. Their “need” is to commit themselves, at least provisionally, to their interpretations. In so doing, they are already proceeding antiphilologically, according to Nietzsche. This is even more strongly the case for interpreters who define Nietzsche’s philosophy, in order to substantiate or to controvert it, as a set of “doctrines.” It is most strongly the case for the one Nietzsche interpreter who has wielded the most international influence, Martin Heidegger. Heidegger’s principal approach was to reduce Nietzsche’s philosophy to a few basic doctrines (primarily those of the death of God, nihilism, the overman, will to power, and the eternal recurrence of the same), to isolate them from the context of their texts, and to insist upon their cohesion as one doctrine. He expected of Nietzsche’s philosophy a traditional system that could be analyzed by traditional methods and largely ignored the significant forms of Nietzsche’s philosophical writing: the treatise, the essay, the maxim, the aphorism book, the epic-dramatic didactic poem, the lyric poem, the polemic pamphlet, the notation. In interpreting as metaphysics the systematic cohesion that he sought in Nietzsche’s philosophy—“Nietzsche’s doctrine does not overcome metaphysics: it is the uttermost unseeing adoption of the very guiding projection of metaphysics”—he gave Nietzsche’s supposed doctrine the appearance of timelessness. [Endnote 17]

But Nietzsche presented these doctrines only partly in his own name and placed many instead into the mouth of Zarathustra, with whom he did not want to be confused and who also taught countless other doctrines that are no less important. Just as Plato used Socrates as a “semiotic” (EH “Untimely Meditations” 3) and allowed him to present a doctrine of ideas—which was different in different dialogues and eventually disproved in all its parts in Parmenides’ dialogue—without asserting that doctrine himself, Nietzsche avails himself, in Zarathustra, of the semiotic of a teacher, leaving his own position toward Zarathustra’s doctrines unclear. But he does allow Zarathustra to fail with those doctrines and does not provide him a public that understands them. [Endnote 18] Zarathustra, who went to the marketplace to proclaim his doctrine of the overman, retreats when ridiculed for it with only a few friends, only to be misunderstood by them as well, so that he speaks only with his animals, who then misunderstand him as well. For it is not Zarathustra who formulates a doctrine of eternal recurrence of the same but, rather, his animals, who, Nietzsche has Zarathustra add, turn his crushing thought into a “hurdy-gurdy song” that is easily understood at the marketplace (Z III:13.2). It is the animals, not Zarathustra, who “know” that he teaches and what he teaches; Zarathustra remains in the dark to the end, awaiting a “sign” (see Z IV:20). And Nietzsche does not have Zarathustra link the aforementioned doctrines systematically together, nor did he ever do so himself. In the aphorism books that follow, these doctrines recede considerably—the doctrine of will to power less so, as it also determines the form of its communication, but certainly the doctrine of the overman and of the eternal recurrence of the same. Book 5 of GS, which has received little attention from Nietzsche interpreters, mentions none of these doctrines, and it is a summary of Nietzsche’s thought up to that point, perhaps the most mature expression of his philosophy. [Endnote 19] It is well known that Nietzsche himself unmistakably refused to lay claim to a system. [Endnote 20] Jean Granier and Wolfgang Müller-Lauter have clearly shown that Heidegger’s interpretation of the will to power as a principle of metaphysics—of a final, complete metaphysics— is a matter of bad philology. [Endnote 21] Moreover, Heidegger drew heavily upon the edition of The Will to Power edited by Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche and Heinrich Köselitz, which is no longer authoritative since the new edition from Nietzsche’s Nachlass was published by Giorgio Colli and Mazzino Montinari. [Endnote 22]

5. Antiphilology II: The Dogma of Ambivalence and Inconsistency in Nietzsche’s Philosophy

Heidegger’s demand for a systematic unity among these supposedly central doctrines is nonetheless still dominant in Nietzsche interpretation, even if it is being pursued in a more differentiated way. [Endnote 23] Systematic unity means clarity of interpretation, deducibility from principles, universality, totality, and thus finality of outcomes. And with all of that, the certitude of interpretation grows. But as difficult as systematic unity is to establish in Nietzsche’s philosophy, as controversial as it thus remains, still, the search for certitude of interpretation could be one way of making oneself comfortable with Nietzsche’s texts. For systematic unity can only be won from Nietzsche’s diverse work if one abandons the diversity of the texts themselves. Any interpretation that takes systematic unity as the measure of Nietzsche’s philosophy, and thus accuses him of ambivalence for not adhering to it, is openly antiphilological in the Nietzschean sense. And the claim of Nietzsche’s ambivalence has become a dogma of Nietzsche research, repeated unremittingly in both scholarly and popular opinions about Nietzsche, without thereby becoming any more true. Nietzsche tolerated “ambiguity” neither in others nor in himself; declaredly, he wanted to be “unambiguous” in his life and in his writing. [Endnote 24] His writings become ambivalent or ambiguous only when concepts are taken out of their contexts or are generalized away from them altogether, so as to be incorporated into a system. By accusing Nietzsche of ambivalence, interpreters make room for their own systematizations of his philosophy. Yet, in many contexts, the signs of language must be ambiguous. For if they are to be acquired within a limited time, they must be limited in their number but still be applicable in the innumerable contexts in which they then necessarily take on different meanings and in the spaces—again, limited—in which their meanings shift. [Endnote 25] Their meanings must be “fluid,” according to GM II:12. [Endnote 26] This fluidity of meaning, like the conditions of linguistic usage itself, is difficult to sustain philosophically, and it is in the power to do so that the power of philology for Nietzsche’s philosophy lies. Every interpretation that insists upon finality and certitude is compromised by this power—and Nietzsche compromised himself deliberately, to allow others to be compromised by him. [Endnote 27] Thus, to accuse Nietzsche’s philosophy of ambivalence is to position oneself outside a philology that does justice to it.

6. Nietzsche Philology I: A Genealogy of Nietzsche’s Published Texts

Antiphilological dealings with Nietzsche’s philosophy emanate primarily from the compilation of WP, which Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche proclaimed to be Nietzsche’s “magnum opus.” But even the new edition of the notations from Nietzsche’s Nachlass (in which Giorgio Colli and Mazzino Montinari provide versions corrected according to the manuscripts, as well as a chronological arrangement) has not resolved the obsession with the Nachlass. Believing still that this is Nietzsche’s thought proper, bluntly formulated, scholarship has placed it on an equal footing with the work he himself published and intended for publication, if not above that work. This too is highly dubious from a philological perspective. For one thing, one is dealing here not, as Montinari showed, with “Fragments,” with elaborated texts broken off solely in their composition, but instead with notations, pregnant though their formulation might be. [Endnote 28] In his notations, Nietzsche articulates thoughts and the relationships between them initially for himself. And one makes a note for oneself only of that which one could forget, which one does not want to forget, including, quite possibly, formulations. But one will not forget one’s most important thoughts, the ones that do not let one go; one does not need to make a note of them. Thus we may not assume that “Nietzsche’s philosophy proper” is to be found especially in his notations, [Endnote 29] and it is philologically disingenuous to regard the notations in the Nachlass as fragments of Nietzsche’s true “doctrine.”

In his notations, Nietzsche recorded the fruits of his reading, ideas, schemata, trains of thought, and drafts. He experimented with them, rewrote them, regrouped them—and then decided very freely, in his publications, whether to revert to them or not. If he did publish them, then he rarely did so as he had first formulated them. According to philological principles, only the published version (or, in the case of the last writings, the version intended for publication) can be the valid version. Those are the only versions Nietzsche authorized, and, in accordance with the “more subtle laws” of his style, he published them in such a way that even “good friends” should be unsettled in the security of their interpretations. “Good readers” should adhere to this fact. [Endnote 30] Of course, this does not render the notations in the Nachlass superfluous. For one thing, one can follow in them the development and formulation of Nietzsche’s thoughts and see which thoughts and formulations won out in his decisions—an exercise from which important interpretive clues can be won. The aforementioned twenty-seventh aphorism from BGE is a good (and famous) example, as is, for the interpretation of an entire work, the preparation of the Dionysian Dithyrambs in the Nachlass. [Endnote 31] This is how Montinari wanted the Nachlass to be used, in conjunction with the study of Nietzsche’s sources. [Endnote 32] The new edition of the late Nachlass, edited by Marie-Luise Haase and her colleagues in section 9 of Nietzsche’s works, which further clarifies the decisions Montinari made from among the often numerous variants Nietzsche tried out, now allows one to follow carefully Nietzsche’s working through his notations in all variants and to compare it with the facsimiles, which have been preserved on CD-ROM. [Endnote 33] Moreover, one can glean from the Nachlass what Nietzsche did not publish, or at least not in the form in which he made note of it, whether because it did not seem worth communicating, or because it did not seem ready for communicating, or because his readers did not seem ready for it, or because it was too valuable to him to be communicated to them. [Endnote 34] No one has yet studied cohesively which topics and thought patterns Nietzsche reserved for his notations and did not publish. The most obvious example is the so-called scientific proofs of recurrence. But Nietzsche also left unpublished his most aggressive thoughts about race and breeding and the less spectacular but philosophically more revealing differentiations among his concepts of the sign, thought, and interpretation, among other things. [Endnote 35] It would be worth probing into why Nietzsche did not publish such concepts, or did so only limitedly, instead of treating them simply as further doctrines.

7. Nietzsche Philology II: The Infinite Philology of the Aphorism Books

Even the formulations of Nietzsche’s thought that were published (and intended for publication) are never, for him, final. Their process of transformation continues in his published work, as well: Nietzsche repeatedly took up his thoughts anew, combined them repeatedly with other thoughts, placed them repeatedly into new contexts, and thus furthered them. Nothing is completed in his work, nothing is final, and he seems to have had no intention toward completion or finality. Completion and finality are the distinguishing features of the kind of philosophical system that Nietzsche did not desire. [Endnote 36] Nonetheless, an author must come to a preliminary completion, to a preliminary finality, in every work, every chapter, every sentence. The literary form that Nietzsche found for his philosophizing, which drew always only preliminarily to a close, is the aphorism book. This is the form of preliminary completion, of philosophizing temporarily. [Endnote 37] In aphorisms it is the context and not the system that matters. [Endnote 38] Whether they encompass one sentence or texts of multiple pages, they are intellectual contexts without methodical development of thoughts, without a principle of development, and without results of development in an explicit, logical system but with open emphases and open connective possibilities. [Endnote 39] Aphorisms are thus, as forms of attempt, of essais, well suited to put forth surprising thoughts whose effect is in this surprise and not in their rationale; Nietzsche gives rationales almost exclusively in places where they themselves come as a surprise. And as forms of intellectual surprise, they gladly leave the reader leeway and romping place for understanding and misunderstanding, a space that readers automatically take anyway because they absolutely need it for their own thought and life. As a literary form, the aphorism book keeps meaning always in flux; it does not merely facilitate temporary understanding but in fact compels it. But each aphorism too is completed in itself, and in this completion, it can stand for itself and in this way become, when masterfully composed, a “form of ‘eternity.’” Nietzsche is not afraid to reanimate key concepts of the old metaphysics (“substance,” “form,” “immortality,” “eternity”) and to dilute them (“a little immortality,” “forms of ‘eternity’”): “To create things on which time tests its teeth in vain; in form, in substance, to strive for a little immortality—I have never yet been modest enough to demand less of myself. The aphorism, the apothegm, in which I am the first among the Germans to be a master, are the forms of ‘eternity’; it is my ambition to say in ten sentences what everyone else says in a book—what everyone else does not say in a book” (TI “Skirmishes” 51). [Endnote 40]

Nietzsche philology, to Nietzsche’s mind, must be a philology of the aphorism books—the art of reading aphorisms first in their own self-contained contexts, second in the equally self-contained context of the books into which Nietzsche arranged them, and finally in the open context established among his books themselves, which even Nietzsche could survey only with difficulty, so that he had to reappropriate it again and again. Though attempts at a philology of the aphorism books are few, those that exist are certainly significant. [Endnote 41] Each thought in an aphorism can become the source of a perspective for the other thoughts Nietzsche presents there, or in the aphorism book as a whole, or in his work as a whole and can shed its own light on those thoughts. Aphorisms, like the “world” they treat, encompass “infinite interpretations” (GS 374). The philology of the aphorism thus becomes an infinite philology.

In the twentieth century, Nietzsche researchers compiled, in a great collective effort, an overview of Nietzsche’s philosophy—of its themes, terms, forms, and styles; its traditions, sources, and biographical backgrounds—and, in so doing, tested out systematic possibilities of interpretation. In the process, Nietzsche’s work showed itself to be inexhaustible and boundless. In the face of such inexhaustibility and boundlessness, it fell to each interpreter to find a systematic possibility of interpretation from which one could make something, which one could come to terms with and live with. Each interpreter compromised himself with his interpretation. For the systematic interpretations that established this overview, helpful and indispensable though they were (even in their confusing multiplicity), inevitably abandon the particular, overlook—that is, ignore—the particular aphorisms that only the mature Nietzsche (of whom they all spoke) expressed in austere and yet always surprising compositions. To do so is to proceed like the “worst readers”: “The worst readers are those who behave like plundering troops: they take away a few things they can use, dirty and confound the remainder, and revile the whole” (AOM 137). Now we have devised enough overviews and systematic interpretations. The preparations have been made for Nietzsche philology as an infinite philology of Nietzsche’s aphorisms, which can now approach the particular aphorisms. The infinite philology of the aphorisms, of their contexts in the aphorism books and their genealogy in the Nachlass notations, could be the task of future Nietzsche research.


This article was presented at the international colloquium “Nietzsche et la philologie,” organized by Jean-François Balaudé and Patrick Wotling in Reims and Paris/Nanterre, October 19–21, 2006. I wish to thank Patrick Wotling for his French translation and Lisa Anderson for her English translation of it. The German version was published in Nietzsche-Studien 36 (2007): 80–94.


1. See also, for example, D “On the Future of Our Educational Institutions” 2.

2. See Werner Stegmaier, Philosophie der Fluktuanz. Dilthey and Nietzsche (Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht, 1992), especially 348. Patrick Wotling’s Nietzsche et le problème de la civilisation (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1995), which also deals with reading and understanding Nietzsche, begins with Nietzsche’s statement, “I am a nuance” (EH “The Case of Wagner” 4).

3. Translator’s note: Translations of Nietzsche’s published works in this article are taken from standard sources, with minor alterations made where necessary. Translations from the Nachlass and from other German sources are my own.

4. For an extensive interpretation, see Werner Stegmaier, “Zur Frage der Verständlichkeit. Nietzsches Beitrag zum interkulturellen Kommunizieren und Philosophieren,” Allgemeine Zeitschrift für Philosophie 32, no. 2 (2007): 107–19.

5. See GS 345: “It makes the most telling difference whether a thinker has a personal relationship to his problems and finds in them his destiny, his distress, and his greatest happiness, or an ‘impersonal’ one, meaning that he can do no better than to touch them and grasp them with the antennae of cold, curious thought.”

6. See GM I:17. Nietzsche included three further notes in The Case of Wagner: on the translation of the word Drama (CW 9), on Wagner’s national extraction (CW “Postscript”), and on the difference between noble and Christian morality in his GM (CW “Epilogue”).

7. Among the few exceptions are the terms phenomenalism and perspectivism, the only ones under which Nietzsche himself placed his philosophy in his published work or in work intended for publication (GS 354; cf. A 20).

8. This allows completely for a detailed critique of Darwin and Darwinism, especially of its moral postulates and consequences. See Gregory Moore, Nietzsche, Biology, and Metaphor (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002); as well as Martin Stingelin, “Nietzsche und die Biologie. Neue quellenkritische Studien,” Nietzsche-Studien 32 (2003): 503–13.

9. See Josef Simon, Philosophie des Zeichens (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1989), 131–33, “Nietzsches Ablösung der Ontologie.”

10. See Günter Abel, “Logik und Ästhetik,” Nietzsche-Studien 16 (1987): 112–48, especially 119.

11. See, for example, D 129; GM II:12; and Nachlass 1885, KSA 11:38[1] and [2]. See also Abel, “Logik und Ästhetik,” 125–29.

12. See BGE 257 on “the craving for an ever new widening of distances within the soul itself, the development of ever higher, rarer, more remote, further-stretching, more comprehensive states—in brief, simply the enhancement of the type ‘man,’ the continual ‘self-overcoming of man,’ to use a moral formula in a supra-moral sense.” On the pathos of this widening of distances, see Chiara Piazzesi, “Pathos der Distanz et transformation de l’expérience de soi chez le dernier Nietzsche,” Nietzsche-Studien 36 (2007): 258–95.

13. See Z I:7: “Life is hard to bear; but do not act so tenderly! We are all of us fair beasts of burden, male and female asses.”

14. See Christian Benne, Nietzsche und die historisch-kritische Philologie, Monographien und Texte zur Nietzsche-Forschung, Vol. 49 (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2005), which takes this maxim as the guiding thesis of its investigation. Later, after his transition to philosophy, Nietzsche always held fast to the philological standards he had acquired in the Ritschl school. Benne combines with his account of those standards a committed plea for a Nietzsche philology that is philological, which abstains to the extent possible from (speculative) interpretations, and which would become the model for philology in general.

15. See the precursor to this in the Nachlass 1885–86, KSA 12:1[182]/KGW IX:2.79–80. In a notation in the Nachlass, Nietzsche speaks (in an insertion to the note) of insults (“it is somewhat insulting to be understood”); in the published aphorism he insults directly. On the interpretation of BGE 27 and the corresponding Nachlass notation, see Werner Stegmaier, “Nietzsches Zeichen,” Nietzsche-Studien 29 (2000): 41–69, especially 42–48; English translation (of a different version of the article) “Nietzsche’s Doctrines, Nietzsche’s Signs,” Journal of Nietzsche Studies 31 (Spring 2006): 20–41. The transcription of the Nachlass notations has since been differentiated significantly by Marie-Luise Haase in section 9 of Nietzsche’s works, which she edited.

16. Cf. the double bind of friendship as Nietzsche conceives it in Z: “In a friend one should have one’s best enemy. You should be closest to him with your heart when you resist him” (Z I:14).

17. Martin Heidegger, Nietzsche, 4 vols., trans. David Farrell Krell (New York: Harper and Row, 1979–82), vol. 4, 166.

18. See Josef Simon, “Ein Text wie Nietzsches Zarathustra,” and Werner Stegmaier, “Anti-Lehren. Szene und Lehre in Friedrich Nietzsches Also sprach Zarathustra,” in Klassiker auslegen: Friedrich Nietzsche, “Also sprach Zarathustra,” ed. Volker Gerhardt (Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 2000), 225–56, 191–224.

19. See Werner Stegmaier, “‘Philosophischer Idealismus’ und die ‘Musik des Lebens.’ Zu Nietzsches Umgang mit Paradoxien. Eine kontextuelle Interpretation des Aphorismus Nr. 372 der Fröhlichen Wissenschaft,” Nietzsche-Studien 33 (2004): 90–128, 96n26.

20. See TI “Maxims” 26.

21. Jean Granier, Le problème de la vérité dans la philosophie de Nietzsche (Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1966); Wolfgang Müller-Lauter, Nietzsche. Seine Philosophie der Gegensätze und die Gegensätze seiner Philosophie (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1971).

22. See Werner Stegmaier, “[Heideggers] Auseinandersetzung mit Nietzsche I—Metaphysische Interpretation eines Anti-Metaphysikers,” in Heidegger-Handbuch. Leben—Werk—Wirkung, ed. Dieter Thomä (Stuttgart: Metzler Verlag, 2003), 202–10.

23. See John Richardson, Nietzsche’s System (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), as well as his Nietzsche’s New Darwinism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004). See also Hartwig Frank, “Nietzsches System nach John Richardson,” Nietzsche-Studien 34 (2005): 409–19.

24. See Nachlass 1888, KSA 13:14[61]: “To become master of the chaos that one is; to constrain his chaos to become form; to become necessity in form; to become logical, simple, unambiguous, mathematics; to become law: that is the great ambition here.” Walter Kaufmann had already pointed this out in 1950; see his Nietzsche. Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist, 4th ed. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1974), 8, 12–18, 152–77. He did so contra Ernst Bertram’s legend of “typical ambiguity” and contra Karl Jaspers’s push for “contradictions” that “foiled” Nietzsche’s thought in ways that illuminated existence. See Stegmaier, “‘Philosophischer Idealismus’ und die ‘Musik des Lebens,’” 90–91.

25. See Werner Stegmaier, “Diplomatie der Zeichen. Orientierung im Dialog eigener und fremder Vernunft,” in Fremde Vernunft. Zeichen und Interpretation IV, ed. Josef Simon and Werner Stegmaier (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1998), 139–58, 147–48.

26. See Werner Stegmaier, Nietzsches “Genealogie der Moral.” Werkinterpretationen (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1994), 70–88.

27. See EH “Wise” 7: “I have never taken a step publicly that did not compromise me: that is my criterion of doing right.” See also Nachlass 1885–86, KSA 12:2[79]: “My writings are very well defended: whoever betakes to them and thereby makes a mistake, as one who has no right to such books (making himself immediately ridiculous), he is driven by a little fit of rage to pour out his innermost and most ridiculous things: and who could fail to know what it is that always comes out!”

28. The appropriate designation “notations” (Notate) is courtesy of Marie-Luise Haase. See Wolfram Groddeck, “‘Vorstufe’ und ‘Fragment.’ Zur Problematik einer traditionellen textkritischen Unterscheidung in der Nietzsche-Philologie,” in Textkonstitution bei mündlicher und schriftlicher Überlieferung, ed. Martin Stern (Tübingen: Niemeyer Verlag, 1991), 165–75. See also Inga Gerike, “Les manuscrits et les chemins génétiques du Voyageur et son ombre,” in Hyper-Nietzsche. Modèle d’un hypertexte savant sur Internet pour la recherché en sciences humaines. Questions philosophiques, problèmes juridiques, outils informatiques, ed. Paolo D’Iorio (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 2000), 129–62, 132–35.

29. Heidegger, Nietzsche, 1:8. Heidegger continues: “What Nietzsche himself published during his creative life was always foreground” (Nietzsche, 1:9). He is responding to Alfred Baeumler, who disposed Nietzsche’s philosophy decidedly for National Socialism. See Alfred Baeumler, ed., Friedrich Nietzsche, Die Unschuld des Werdens. Der Nachlass, ausgewählt und geordnet von Alfred Baeumler (Leipzig: Kröner Verlag, 1931), Vol. 1, “Zur Einführung,” XXVIII–XXIV.

30. See Maudemarie Clark, Nietzsche on Truth and Philosophy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990).

31. See the exemplary philological analysis of the Dionysian Dithyrambs in Wolfram Groddeck, Friedrich Nietzsche—“Dionysos-Dithyramben,” 2 vols., Monographien und Texte zur Nietzsche-Forschung, Vol. 23/1–2 (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1991). Benne’s Nietzsche und die historisch-kritische Philologie understands itself “as the theory behind this praxis” (342).

32. See Mazzino Montinari, Nietzsche lesen (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1980), 1–9. He says that a “correct reading of Nietzsche” places “his works in an internal relationship to the Nachlass and thus to Nietzsche’s own development altogether” (Nietzsche lesen, 4).

33. For criticism of Montinari’s nonetheless arbitrary edition, see Wolfram Groddeck and Michael Kohlenbach, “Zwischenüberlegungen zur Edition von Nietzsches Nachlaß,” Text. Kritische Beiträge 1 (1995): 21–39. See Beat Röllin, “Das Editionsprojekt ‘Der späte Nietzsche,’” in Nietzsche und Schopenhauer. Rezeptionsphänomen der Wendezeiten, ed. Marta Kopij and Wojciech Kunicki (Leipzig: Leipziger Universitätsverlag, 2006), 399–411 (an abridged version of Beat Röllin, Marie-Luise Haase, René Stockmar, and Franziska Trenkle, “‘Der späte Nietzsche’— Schreibprozeß und Heftedition,” in Schreibprozesse, ed. Peter Hughes, Thomas Fries, and Tan Wälchli [Munich: Wilhelm Fink Verlag, 2007], in the series Zur Geneaologie des Schreibens, ed. Martin Stingelin). See also Beat Röllin and René Stockmar, “‘Aber ich notire mich, für mich.’— Die IX. Abteilung der Kritischen Gesamtausgabe von Nietzsches Werken,” Nietzsche-Studien 36 (November 2007): 22–40.

34. Nietzsche’s Zarathustra is famously drastic in this sense: “Whoever knows the reader will henceforth do nothing for the reader. Another century of readers—and the spirit itself will stink” (Z I:7). Cf. Nachlass notation 1882, KSA 10:3[1].162: “Whoever knows ‘the reader’ certainly does not write for readers anymore—but rather for himself, the writer.” Cf. also notation 1887, KSA 12:9[188]: “I don’t respect readers anymore: how could I write for readers? . . . But I make notes, for myself.”

35. See Gerd Schank, “Rasse” und “Züchtung” bei Nietzsche, Monographien und Texte zur Nietzsche-Forschung, Vol. 44 (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2000); as well as Stegmaier, “Nietzsches Zeichen.” Neither topic is confined exclusively to Nietzsche’s notations, nor is his concept of interpretation. See Johann Figl, Interpretation als philosophisches Prinzip. Friedrich Nietzsches universale Theorie der Auslegung im späten Nachlaß, Monographien und Texte zur Nietzsche-Forschung, Vol. 7 (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1982).

36. Dieter Henrich, certainly an expert on metaphysics, has called it the “completing thought” of philosophy. See his “Was ist Metaphysik—was Moderne? Zwölf Thesen gegen Jürgen Habermas,” in Konzepte. Essays zur Philosophie in der Zeit (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1987), 11–43, 13. It is in just this sense that Nietzsche repudiated metaphysics.

37. See Martin Stingelin, “Aphorismus,” in Nietzsche-Handbuch. Leben—Werk—Wirkung, ed. Henning Ottmann (Stuttgart: Metzler Verlag, 2000), 185–87. See also the literature that is cited therein.

38. See Tilman Borsche, “System und Aphorismus,” in Nietzsche und Hegel, ed. Mihailo Djuric and Josef Simon (Würzburg: Königshausen und Neumann, 1992), 48–64.

39. In FEI P:1 Nietzsche calls explicit systems “tables” that most teachers expected but which “the reader from whom I expect something” would have to do without.

40. See Simon, Philosophie des Zeichens (“Das Problem systematischer Orientierung”): The “interconnectivity [of the aphorisms] renders superfluous any interpretation ‘from outside,’ and thus their breaking off at any point. The ‘form’ contains actual and not just suppositional wholeness, which is in itself enough and in that respect infinite. In the image of a circle of interpretation which ‘eternally’ returns to itself, the form is a ‘form of eternity,’ ‘true infinity’ in the Hegelian sense” (304–5). Nietzsche adds, in the cited passage: “I have given mankind the most profound book it possesses, my Zarathustra; shortly I shall give it the most independent” (TI “Skirmishes” 51). He evidently conceived of Z as a kind of aphorism book, as well.

41. On Human, All Too Human, see Peter Heller, Von den ersten und letzten Dingen. Studien und Kommentar zu einer Aphorismenreihe von Friedrich Nietzsche, Monographien und Texte zur Nietzsche-Forschung, Vol. 1 (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1972). On GS, see Niels Helsloot, Vrolijke Wetenschap. Nietzsche als vriend (Baarn, the Netherlands: Agora, 1999); and Kathleen Marie Higgins, Comic Relief. Nietzsche’s “Gay Science” (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000). On BGE, see Paul J. M. van Tongeren, Reinterpreting Modern Culture. An Introduction to Friedrich Nietzsche’s Philosophy (West Lafayette, Ind.: Purdue University Press, 2000); Laurence Lampert, Nietzsche’s Task. An Interpretation of “Beyond Good and Evil” (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001); Douglas Burnham, Reading Nietzsche: An Analysis of “Beyond Good and Evil” (Stocksfield, U.K.: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2007); and Christa Davis Acampora and Keith Ansell-Pearson, Nietzsche’s “Beyond Good and Evil” (New York: Continuum, 2009). On TI, see Daniel W. Conway, Nietzsche’s Dangerous Game. Philosophy in the Twilight of the Idols (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002). On A, see Andreas Urs Sommer, Friedrich Nietzsches “Der Antichrist.” Ein philosophisch-historischer Kommentar, Beiträge zu Friedrich Nietzsche, Vol. 2 (Basel: Schwabe Verlag, 2000). Quite a lot of studies were published (not listed here) on BT and GM.

An analysis of the context of Nietzsche’s work as a whole is aided tremendously by the new Nietzsche-Wörterbuch, compiled by Paul van Tongeren’s research group in the Netherlands. The first of four planned volumes has recently appeared. See Nietzsche Research Group (Nijmegen) under the direction of Paul van Tongeren, Gerd Schank, and Herman Siemens, eds., Nietzsche-Wörterbuch, Vol. 1: Abbreviatur-einfach (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2004).