Nickolas Pappas. The Nietzsche Disappointment: Reckoning with Nietzsche's Unkept Promises on Origins and Outcomes. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2005. xvii + 267 pp. $96.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-7425-4346-1; $34.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-7425-4347-8.
T. K. Seung. Nietzsche's Epic of the Soul: Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books, 2005. xxvii + 370 pp. $91.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-7391-1129-1; $29.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-7391-1130-7.
Reviewed by Peter Bergmann (History Department, University of Florida)
Published on H-German (March, 2006)
Reading Nietzsche Pro and Con
These two exercises in Nietzsche exegesis adopt contrasting strategies. T.K. Seung's Nietzsche's Epic of the Soul: Thus Spoke Zarathustra is an exultant attempt to resolve a problem that has bedeviled generations of readers of "Nietzsche's masterpiece" (p. ix). The concluding part 4 has seemed a blemish on the whole, either as a jarring burlesque of all that preceded or an ultimately disheartening exercise in circularity. Where critics have found only disjointed aphorisms, didactic speeches and embarrassing parodies, Seung locates the poem's "epic unity." His eclectic mix of philosophy, psychology, religious studies, literary analysis and cultural history is intended to root Nietzsche's thought in Spinoza's pantheism. Where others have interpreted the climactic Ass Festival as a mordant symbol of the mob or democracy run amuck, Seung sees it as "a Dionysan festival that marks the return of nature-religion, that is, the worship of Nature as God" (p. 291). Does not the ass bear a load of wine; was not Dionysus typically shown arriving on an ass? Where others have seen only parody, Seung find also solemnity and reverence, the marks of a "new religion of Dionysian pantheism" (p. 296). Seung is constantly delighted to find so much Nietzsche in Spinoza.
Seung is an artful and at times eloquent guide. His study is structured as a running commentary on the poem, complete with brief analytic asides and occasional borrowings and skirmishes with other authors. The opening chapter, "The Superman," quotes Ludwig Feuerbach's dictum--"Religion is the dream of the human mind" (p. 4)--to explain Zarathustra's allegiance to the superhuman ideal despite the death of God. Seung declares that the "Zarathustra of the Prologue is a Young Hegelian" (p. 11), without mentioning Nietzsche's youthful critique of the Young Hegelian legacy. Schopenhauer's influence is treated as an aside. Seung focuses on the big picture, on making a "great book" appear even "greater." The troubled writer fades into Zarathustra the sage, his publishing travails unworthy of comment. The second chapter, "The Suffering Soul," identifies Spinoza as a central influence on the poem that transforms Zarathustra from a Faustian individualist to a cosmic Spinozan epic hero. Driven by his metaphor of a journey of the soul, Seung hustles the reader along the path of Zarathustra's self-discovery. This is cultural history in the broadest sense. The time-bound historian will miss the sickly author shuttling back and forth between the Alps and the Riviera, the underlying tensions of the deceptively calm late Bismarck era, and other mundane matters. In lieu of that, we have a lively if at times idiosyncratic reading of the Zarathustra.
If Seung is out to write an exhilarating tour de force, trumpeting Nietzsche's masterful purpose, Nicholas Pappas reconnoiters, circling the Nietzschean corpus, striking at it here and there. He is more interested in Nietzsche's historicity, and places this "overbred historian" (p. 29) in a nineteenth-century context "when everyone deals in futures" (p. 182). The Nietzsche Disappointment: Reckoning with Nietzsche's Unkept Promises on Origins and Outcomes employs a downbeat approach that takes heart in the frustrations, dead ends and unresolved tensions in Nietzsche's thought. To be disappointed in Nietzsche, Pappas advises, is the most fruitful starting point. Certainly "pushing back against Nietzsche instead of (yet again) pulling him onto the philosophical stage" seems more in keeping with Nietzsche's own agonistic proclivities (p. xi). Pappas adopts an aphoristic style that facilitates such resistance. Whereas Seung resembles the popular lecturer, generous to a fault, Pappas takes a stern stance against grade inflation of any kind. He mocks Nietzsche's eagerness to be accepted as a philosopher and gives him a failing grade for posing the question "How did the present come out of the past?" and failing to answer it; that this is true of all the other philosophers is no excuse. "Nietzsche sets a standard and does not meet it: that when it comes time for him to deliver the causal story he called for, he balks. Nietzsche says that history needs a history but doesn't give one," Pappas concludes (p. 31) In the end, Pappas is haunted by the "gloomy thought" that "the failure of Nietzsche's theories [is] not an invitation to further philosophizing but a slammed door in every philosopher's face. Nietzsche's failure as a philosopher is philosophy's failure" (pp. 251-252).
Along the way, Pappas explicates four Nietzsche texts: The Birth of Tragedy, "On the Use and Disadvantage of History for Life," On the Genealogy of Morals and Beyond Good and Evil. In each, he juxtaposes relevant texts to the Gospel of John, The Origins of Species and Henri Bergson's Laughter. In Nietzsche's final, deranged letter to Jacob Burckhardt, Pappas finds sense in nonsense. It is in the fragmented, all-too-human Nietzsche that Pappas delights, and as one might expect Pappas's inquisition of Nietzsche mirrors his own disappointment: Pappas's book belongs to those "enticing books that finally let you down" (p. 243).
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Peter Bergmann. Review of Pappas, Nickolas, The Nietzsche Disappointment: Reckoning with Nietzsche's Unkept Promises on Origins and Outcomes and
Seung, T. K., Nietzsche's Epic of the Soul: Thus Spoke Zarathustra.
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