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uni'wissen 02-2012 ENG

Friedrich Nietzsche was a master at con- cealing his sources. Now commentators in Freiburg are track- ing down the sources of the philosopher’s inspirations. Photo: Klassik Stiftung Weimar consider numerous sources from the 19th cen- tury,” says Neymeyr. The philosopher was a master at concealing his sources. From time to time he would name his references, but usually he did not. A good example of this practice is the third part of the Untimely Meditations on “Scho- penhauer as Educator.” Although Nietzsche mentions the name of Schopenhauer many times here, he only speaks of Schopenhauer’s treatise On University Philosophy explicitly at two points, says Neymeyr, “but a direct comparison of the two works reveals that Nietzsche takes impor- tant elements from Schopenhauer, even argu- mentation structures.” Polemic against the Zeitgeist Nietzsche reworked the thoughts of others re- peatedly and adapted them to fit his own philoso- phy – even the viewpoints of his adversaries: “In his late works in particular, he explicitly declares the authors to whom he is most indebted to be his avowed enemies,” explains Sommer. In order to avoid being associated with them, he con- ceals his sources or dissociates himself from them with fierce polemic – a simple and effective way of positioning himself against the predomi- nant zeitgeist. In his last writings, for instance, he construes the history of Judaism and Christi- anity as one of decline, falling back on Old Tes- tament historian Julius Wellhausen’s theory of the emergence of Judaism as a process of “de- naturing.” Whereas Wellhausen argued that Christianity had been able to reverse this devel- opment, Nietzsche contested that it had actually increased the “denaturing.” However, Nietzsche does not mention Wellhausen at all in his works. This source was unknown until it was brought to light by the Freiburg commentators – along with a multitude of other sources. “You have to have a detective’s nose to sniff out things like this.” The commentators found important clues as to how Nietzsche used his sources at the phi- losopher’s private library in Weimar, which was digitalized for the commentary project. An exam- ination of this library taught the trio a lot about the way in which Nietzsche worked, which – ac- cording to Sommer – was extremely selective: “He usually only read what he could use. In many books, only a couple of chapters or 20, 30 pages have his notes in the margin.” As far as his own says Andreas Urs Sommer, adjunct professor of philosophy at the University of Freiburg and one of the commentators – along with Jochen Schmidt and Barbara Neymeyr. Group leader Schmidt served as chair in modern German lit- erature at the University of Freiburg until 2004, Neymeyr is a professor in the same field. Neymeyr believes that the reason why Nietzsche was interpreted differently again and again in the past is because “his exceedingly erratic, aphoris- tic thinking seduced many of his readers to con- struct an entire ideology out of individual quotes.” Nietzsche was appropriated time and again by the proponents of various ideologies – from Na- tional Socialists to Marxists and feminists. Another stumbling block was the manipulative way in which Nietzsche’s sister Elisabeth and her willing helpers at the Nietzsche Archive in Weimar dealt with his literary remains. After all, they were the ones responsible for tampering with Nietzsche’s unpublished manuscripts and piecing together The Will to Power. This work was translated into numerous languages and was regarded by many interpreters, including the philosopher Martin Heidegger, as the quintes- sence of Nietzsche’s philosophy, because it con- cretized and simplified his experimental thinking. However, the fact that too much importance was attached to his literary remains over the course of decades is also a result of Nietzsche’s self- stylization: He always told his readers that his most important works were still unfinished. The commentary currently being prepared in Freiburg has now declared Nietzsche’s literary remains to be of minor significance. A Master at Concealing His Sources Each commentator participating in the project has his or her own area of specialization: While Sommer is concentrating on the late writings from 1888 on, Neymeyr is responsible for the Untimely Meditations, a work influenced by the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, and Schmidt, an expert on Greek antiquity, is working on the early work The Birth of Tragedy. Interdisciplinary work is unavoidable. Nietzsche claimed again and again throughout his life that he hardly read anything, but that was simply not true. “Ni- etzsche certainly did receive inspiration from other authors, and this made it necessary to “Nietzsche certainly did receive inspiration from other authors, and this made it necessary to consider numerous sources from the 19th century” 37