NIETZSCHE: A Critical Life by Ronald Hayman
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NIETZSCHE: A Critical Life

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Although still mistakenly vilified as a precursor of Nazism by some (most recently by J. P. Stern), Nietzsche is presently recognized by English-speaking commentators as a major modern philosopher, something French and German writers have known for a long time. The problem now is to disentangle Nietzsche's idiosyncratic philosophy from the central fact of his life: his gradual slide into madness. Hayman, whose previous books on Beckett, Artaud, and de Sade are evidence of his concern with the theater, is convinced that the two cannot be completely separated. Sticking to a straight chronological approach, he argues that the truths contained in Nietzsche's writings--which, for Hayman, have to do with the autonomy of the individual as a moral actor--originated in Nietzsche's reflection on his mental and physical state. A brilliant child, Nietzsche was drawn to aesthetic pursuits--music and poetry--but turned to classical philology as one form of self-discipline (philology being demanding and methodical). Appointed a professor at Basel when he was only 24, he had already begun to suffer from chronic headaches and stomach disorders, and to seek treatment. Hayman carefully reconstructs Nietzsche's simultaneous struggles with his mental and physical health, and with his warring desires for scholarly discipline and aesthetic expression-all of which revolved for a time around his relations with Richard Wagner. Hayman gives some lip-service to the father-figure interpretation of Nietzsche's attachment to the composer, but the eventual break between them comes across here as the first major step in Nietzsche's own development of a philosophical style which directly incorporates the expressive elements of artistic creation; coming to be himself, the philosopher-as-artist, Nietzsche moved away from the artist-as-philosopher Wagner. As Nietzsche's madness grew--Hayman doubts that it was syphilitic in origin--his reflections on sickness and health, abnormality and normalcy, coupled with a ruthlessly direct style, gave rise to the distinctively Nietzschian philosophy of will. Hayman thus manages to devote primary attention to the biography without completely relativizing the philosophy, even if his penchant for linking madness to truth is overdone. Less discursive, and more truly biographical, than Kaufman's well-known study of Nietzsche; and an excellent introduction to a fascinating figure.

Pub Date: June 19th, 1980
Publisher: Oxford Univ. Press