Nietzsche: A Philosophical Biography

Nietzsche: A Philosophical Biography

No other modern philosopher has proved as influential as Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) and none is as poorly understood. In the first new biography in decades, Rüdiger Safranski, one of the foremost living Nietzsche scholars, re-creates the anguished life of Nietzsche while simultaneously assessing the philosophical implications of his morality, religion, and art. Strugg...

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Title:Nietzsche: A Philosophical Biography
Author:Rüdiger Safranski
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Edition Language:English

Nietzsche: A Philosophical Biography Reviews

  • Joan Sebastián Araujo Arenas

    «Nietzsche: Biografía de su pensamiento», es, en esencia, un viaje. Es dejarse llevar por mares turbulentos, por el verdadero mundo, lo monstruoso. Las valquirias, en su caminar, nos acompañan en nuestro afán de búsqueda. Atravesamos el espacio y el tiempo, y conversamos con Sócrates, discutiéndole sus ideas. Seguimos, como por encanto, hasta Marx, con quien tomamos un café.

    A Schopenhauer lo vemos a lo lejos, construyendo la representación de la voluntad; y sin embargo, con ninguno nos quedamos

    «Nietzsche: Biografía de su pensamiento», es, en esencia, un viaje. Es dejarse llevar por mares turbulentos, por el verdadero mundo, lo monstruoso. Las valquirias, en su caminar, nos acompañan en nuestro afán de búsqueda. Atravesamos el espacio y el tiempo, y conversamos con Sócrates, discutiéndole sus ideas. Seguimos, como por encanto, hasta Marx, con quien tomamos un café.

    A Schopenhauer lo vemos a lo lejos, construyendo la representación de la voluntad; y sin embargo, con ninguno nos quedamos. La brisa, el oleaje, las valquirias, los pensadores; todo es pasajero. Por fin vemos tierra, y allí, vemos a un hombre desnudo. ¿Qué hace allí sentado, sobre la arena hirviente? ¿Por qué hay una sonrisa en su rostro?… Nos acercamos tímidamente a él, y le preguntamos quién es: «El superhombre», contesta.

    Caminamos de un lado para otro en la arena, subimos a una roca, y ante un rayo de sol, lo entendemos todo. «Dios ha muerto» y, sin embargo, hay un «eterno retorno de lo mismo»; Dios muerto está, pero puede llegar a haber un superhombre. Regresamos al mar, a las valquirias, a lo monstruoso; es nuestro ocaso, debemos compartir nuestra nueva esperanza; nuestra filosofía…

  • Domhnall

    This "philosophical biography" provides a thoughtful, chronological overview of the key ideas contained in Nietzsche's writings, taking each book in turn, but I would hesitate to respond by offering a review of Nietzsche. He himself, wh

    This "philosophical biography" provides a thoughtful, chronological overview of the key ideas contained in Nietzsche's writings, taking each book in turn, but I would hesitate to respond by offering a review of Nietzsche. He himself, when he considered producing a comprehensive statement of his philosophy in a major work to be entitled "The Will to Power," had the insight that this would be redundant, since he had already published all that required saying and provided his own key in the form of a new preface for each book, which he wrote in 1886 for a new publisher. I am not convinced that all that work can be condensed into one volume or that it can be conveyed in calm prose.

    The book does suggest that Nietzsche's ideas are intelligible and coherent, and gives a flavour of his style, so that there is no reason to be deterred from turning to the original works. It is not a substitute for reading what Nietzsche actually wrote. But it gives a lot of guidance to enable readers to approach Nietzsche critically and to avoid becoming submerged in what is certainly going to be very intense and challenging material.

    I would say that this is a readable and accessible account and that is an achievement to be commended. It was a pleasure to read.

  • Momo García

    Safranski es un gran biógrafo y un ensayista desafortunado. Su Nietzsche se encuentra más cerca del lado de la biografía, aunque desde el título advierte que hace un relato biográfico de su pensamiento. El resultado es increíble: muestra los libros de Nietzsche y los relaciona todo el tiempo con sus desafortunados andares; mejor homenaje no puede existir. Eso coloca al libro en una situación extraña: puede ser introductorio para unos, para otros un repaso -en el que se muestran algunas vetas ant

    Safranski es un gran biógrafo y un ensayista desafortunado. Su Nietzsche se encuentra más cerca del lado de la biografía, aunque desde el título advierte que hace un relato biográfico de su pensamiento. El resultado es increíble: muestra los libros de Nietzsche y los relaciona todo el tiempo con sus desafortunados andares; mejor homenaje no puede existir. Eso coloca al libro en una situación extraña: puede ser introductorio para unos, para otros un repaso -en el que se muestran algunas vetas antes ignoradas-.

    El único pero que podría anteponérsele a Safranski es que prefiere ahondar en los libros tempranos de Nietzsche y el Zaratustra, pasando como si no le interesara -o fuese a terminar su beca- sobre los libros mas crueles: el Anticristo, Más allá del bien y del mal y la Genealogía. Otro pero es el último capítulo en el que da rienda suelta a su vena de novelista y solo hace un caótico collage de autores europeos del siglo XX influenciados por Nietzsche.

    Soy un entusiasta lector de Nietzsche y esta biografía intelectual sólo ha exacerbado mis ganas de seguir en la vorágine de su pensamiento.

  • Simon

    Elaborate review of Nietzsche's thought development. Correlates his thinking with many of his predecessors (mostly ancient Greek philosophers like Heraclitus and Socrates, and enlightenment guys like Kant and Spinoza), temporaries (Hegel, Schopenhauer, Max Stirner, Wagner, Strauss), and successors (Freud, Heidegger, Foucault, but no Husserl or Sartre).

    Safranski uses a chronological order in which themes are very frequently repeated and much of the inconsistencies within Nietzsche's work come fo

    Elaborate review of Nietzsche's thought development. Correlates his thinking with many of his predecessors (mostly ancient Greek philosophers like Heraclitus and Socrates, and enlightenment guys like Kant and Spinoza), temporaries (Hegel, Schopenhauer, Max Stirner, Wagner, Strauss), and successors (Freud, Heidegger, Foucault, but no Husserl or Sartre).

    Safranski uses a chronological order in which themes are very frequently repeated and much of the inconsistencies within Nietzsche's work come forward. Sometimes Safranski steps in to elucidate these, but to my taste not frequently enough. Nietzsche and other writers are cited all the time.

    Like the title says, it is a philosophical biography focusing on the thoughts and intellectual works of Nietzsche. Spicy and concrete details are mostly lacking, which I consider a good thing. Curious in this regard is the authors speculative suggestion, late in the book, that Nietzsche may have been raped as a child and may have harbored homosexual feelings. This is mentioned along the way without further elaboration. Very curious indeed.

    The writing is pleasant and offers some sublime clarifications of Nietzsche's vague writings. E.g. the concept of the Übermensch is in my opinion finely elucidated in the following: "The Übermensch embodies the sanctification of this world as a response to the "death of God." The Übermensch is free of religion. He has not lost it, but reclaimed it for himself." Likewise the author explains diligently how Nietzsche was strongly opposed to nationalism, racism, anti-semitism, and socialism.

    I do really like the author's emphasis on an often lost suggestion of Nietzsche of a so-called "bicameral" system in which there is room for both a personal intuitive passionate life combined with a scientific explanatory view of life. "A higher culture must give people "two chambers of the brain, as it were, one to experience science and the other non-science: lying juxtaposed, without confusion, divisible, able to be sealed off; this is necessary to preserve health. The source of power is located in the one region; the regulator, in the other. Illusions, partialities, and passions must provide the heat, while the deleterious and dangerous consequences of overheating must be averted with the aid of scientific knowledge."

    He takes time to explain the view of how Christianity is a "slave morality" which was used by the weak in the Roman times to take control over their strong masters, by turning weak traits characteristic of low self-esteem (e.g. charity, humility, pity, obedience) into values and strong traits (e.g. egotism, pride) into vices; and how this morality suppresses life.

    I really enjoyed his explaining of Nietzsche's view of different cultures: "What system of blinders does each culture rely on to shut out the threatening power of the Dionysian and to channel essential Dionysian energies? Nietzsche posed this question fully aware that he was touching on the innermost secrets of each culture. He traced the surreptitious ways of the will to live and discovered how culturally inventive this will to live could be. He traced the surreptitious ways of the will to live and discovered how culturally inventive this will to live could be. To keep its creatures"clinging to life"(1,115;BT§ 18),it wraps them in illusions. It ensures that some choose the "veil of beauty in art" and that others seek metaphysical solace in religion and philosophy in order to be reassured "that under the whirl of phenomena eternal life keeps flowing indestructibly." Still others are captivated by a "Socratic love of knowledge" and are deceived into thinking that knowledge can "heal the eternal wound of existence" (1,115). A mixture of these ingredients yields what we call culture. According to the proportions of the mixture, a culture will be predominantly artistic, such as that of Greek antiquity, or religious and metaphysical, as in the heyday of the Christian West and the eastern Buddhist world, or Socratic, emphasizing knowledge and science."

    Safranski audaciously explains some of Nietzsche's darker statements about inferior people and how they should be overruled by the strong people, referring to his own tragic solitary life and how he has suffered from his own excessively kind and pitiful character, which was taken advantage of mostly by his malignant mother and sister. Clearly here the author defends Nietzsche.

    The writing structure is disorganised and repetitive, certain parts could have been much shorter. Some quotes seem to appear several times in each chapter, like the one how one should become master of himself and his virtues. It strikes me as absurd that this is repeated so frequently while the entire amor fati concept is completely neglected. Isn't that one of the core concepts of Thus Spoke Zarathustra: the Übermensch uses his will to power to conquer his past, affirm life and thus take over the role of the deceased God?

    My main critique is Safranski's inability to grasp that Nietzsche was fully aware of the highly individual nature of one's "knowledge" and one's "values". Wasn't it Nietzsche himself who subjected these things to the will to power, and didn't he clearly designate every individual as a point of will to power? Clearly here, Nietzsche's thought system is his will to power. Safranski designates this as a massive inconsistency within his system, yet in my view it is the point where Nietzsche leaves the universal part of his thoughts and starts designing his own particular truth, his personal philosophy, his will to power, so as to finish his legacy in the history of philosophy.

    Due to the complexity of the subject I rate it 5 stars as it has given me very fine insight and clarification. I guess much of the chaos and inconsistency has more to do with Nietzsche himself than the author, and I applaud him for his courage and insight to clarify at least some elements of it. Safranski however clearly struggles in this book with this absurdly complex philosophical legacy, and hides behind a thick wall of metaphoric Nietzsche quotes, which leaves a somewhat unsatisfied feeling.

    Would I have done a better job? Decidedly not.

  • Martha Elizalde

    Profundiza bastante en el pensamiento de Nietzsche, haciendo uso de material como escritos póstumos, diarios y cartas.

    Me encantó.

  • John

    I first encountered Friedrich Nietzsche in my freshman year at Kenyon College, when my introductory political science class read his Beyond Good and Evil. It was fascinating and challenging, and though I understood the gist of it, there were plenty of aspects of it that went over my head. During my junior year, I abruptly dropped my music major (I picked it up again the next year) and took two classes that—finally—weren’t either English or music courses: computer programming and a political scie

    I first encountered Friedrich Nietzsche in my freshman year at Kenyon College, when my introductory political science class read his Beyond Good and Evil. It was fascinating and challenging, and though I understood the gist of it, there were plenty of aspects of it that went over my head. During my junior year, I abruptly dropped my music major (I picked it up again the next year) and took two classes that—finally—weren’t either English or music courses: computer programming and a political science seminar devoted to Nietzsche. We began with his On the Genealogy of Morals, which was a fascinating and subversive look at the origins of conventional morality. From here, we moved on to Nietzsche’s literary exposition of his philosophy, Thus Spoke Zarathustra. It was absolutely fascinating, both in its ideas and the style of Nietzsche as translated by Walter Kauffman, and both of these aspects had an influence on me.

    A couple years ago, while shopping for gifts, I came across this volume and thought it sounded interesting. Well, it was. Take note of the subtitle: “a philosophical biography.” The emphasis is on philosophical, not on biography. This book is about the development of Nietzsche’s ideas; the events of his life are included primarily as they influenced his philosophy or otherwise illuminate the development of his ideas.

    Enjoying this book is helped if you have at least some familiarity with philosophy in general and/or Nietzsche’s writing. If you don’t have any background in either one, it may still be possible to enjoy this book because of how well written it is, but Safranski doesn’t stop to explain a lot of philosophical terms.

    That said, it is a really well-written book. Safranski shows us the development of Nietzsche’s philosophy. At the same time, Safranski is not afraid to offer opinions as to where Nietzsche may have gone wrong. It’s also clear to see, alongside Nietzsche’s genius, his profoundly human qualities, his insecurities and imperfections.

    Safranski concludes his book with an epilogue tracing Nietzsche’s reception and influence in the years after his death. It is, by his own admission, incomplete, but still quite interesting as far as it goes.

  • Dirk Baranek

    Keine Biographie des wunderlichen Lebens dieses gnadenlosen Denkers, sondern eine Geschichte der Entwicklung seines Denkens. Nicht ganz eingängig geschrieben, kein Wunder bei der Komplexität des Gegenstandes, jedoch durchaus klar erläuternd, was Nietzsche will, woher er kommt und welche Brüche mit Denktraditionen ihn vorantreiben.

  • Matthew Linton

    A biography with clear cut pros and cons. Here is a brief enumeration of both:

    Pros:

    1. Great introductory biography for those unfamiliar with Nietzsche's life and writings. Safranski outlines Nietzsche's thought in clear, elegant prose requiring little previous philosophical background to understand.

    2. Stays focused on Nietzsche's philosophy and doesn't get sucked into the petty details of his life or those of the age he lived in.

    3. Lacks any glarin

    A biography with clear cut pros and cons. Here is a brief enumeration of both:

    Pros:

    1. Great introductory biography for those unfamiliar with Nietzsche's life and writings. Safranski outlines Nietzsche's thought in clear, elegant prose requiring little previous philosophical background to understand.

    2. Stays focused on Nietzsche's philosophy and doesn't get sucked into the petty details of his life or those of the age he lived in.

    3. Lacks any glaring distortions of Nietzsche's philosophy. Acknowledges shortcomings in Nietzsche's thought and how they led his sullied reputation during the post-war period.

    Cons:

    1. The last chapter is a complete disaster. Aside from almost plagiarizing the work of Aschheim, the topic is too large to be covered in one chapter. By taking on too much material, the final chapter lacks focus and ends the book on a low note.

    2. His apologetic treatment of Martin Heidegger in the final chapter. Safranski refuses to acknowledge the controversy that has arisen from Heidegger's appropriation of Nietzsche during World War II. I understand that Safranski has written a biography of Heidegger and likely believes Heidegger has been unfairly condemned for his flirtations with Nazism, but he should have acknowledged the controversy.

    3. I would have liked more comparison between philosophical works. There are a few comparisons made, but it would have been interesting if Safranski illustrated more explicitly how Nietzsche's philosophy changed from the Birth of Tragedy to his later unpublished writings.

    Overall, this isn't my favorite Nietzsche biography (I am still partial to R.J. Hollingdale's biography), but Safranski provides a solid introduction to Nietzsche's life and oeuvre. I would recommend it to those who have some philosophical background and are looking for a general book on Nietzsche's philosophy as background reading before reading Nietzsche for themselves.

  • Mr. Brammer

    Nietzsche is one of those philosophers that you don't just pick up and read and digest and move on. Really you have to wrestle with his ideas over the course of your life. The young and ambitious are attracted to his ideas about rebellion - I think most people, at some point in their lives, view themselves as "exceptional" . . . while the older and experienced readers might be attracted to some of the more of the cynical side of N.'s writing.

    This biography illuminates some of his more difficult

    Nietzsche is one of those philosophers that you don't just pick up and read and digest and move on. Really you have to wrestle with his ideas over the course of your life. The young and ambitious are attracted to his ideas about rebellion - I think most people, at some point in their lives, view themselves as "exceptional" . . . while the older and experienced readers might be attracted to some of the more of the cynical side of N.'s writing.

    This biography illuminates some of his more difficult or obtuse concepts, but I think Nietzsche really defies easy summarizing. Because he can be very indirect(but also one of the most literary and poetic of philosophers), you really have to kind of immerse yourself in his worldview to come out with a coherent set of ideas. That kind of immersion is impossible with this kind of "philosophical biography". Thanks for reading.

  • Erik Graff

    I prefer Kaufmann, Danto and Hollingdale to Safranski's treatment of Nietzsche's philosophical development, perhaps because they tend toward portraying his thought as more coherent than Safranski does. This is not to say he's wrong and they're right. It may simply amount to my own predilections for systems and system building. I am, after all, most attracted to Kant and to interpretations of Nietzsche which put him within that tradition, albeit as towards the radical side of things.

    S

    I prefer Kaufmann, Danto and Hollingdale to Safranski's treatment of Nietzsche's philosophical development, perhaps because they tend toward portraying his thought as more coherent than Safranski does. This is not to say he's wrong and they're right. It may simply amount to my own predilections for systems and system building. I am, after all, most attracted to Kant and to interpretations of Nietzsche which put him within that tradition, albeit as towards the radical side of things.

    Safranski at times made me think I was reading FN through Martin Heidegger, which might be simply a way of admitting that I found him, like Heidegger, obscurant--or simply difficult. Still, Safranski is known for his study of the latter. At other times I found him to be (over-?) emphasizing the aesthetic side of FN's concerns. Throughout, Safranski paints a picture of a thinker all over the place, inconsistent to an extreme, thinking tied strongly to passing moods and obsessional themes (see the recent 'I Am Dynamite' biography for a fuller exposition of this).

    As Nietzsche himself wrote of his own works, in 1888, "In all seriousness, I really never knew what they signified. I would be lying if I claimed that they (apart from Zarathustra) had impressed me."

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