September 20th, 2007

Books!

"Nietzsche, Nietzsche, Nietzsche!"

30 years ago I took a college class entitled "Irrationality", which an old German lady, Elizabeth Koffka (widow of gestalt psychologist Kurt), was, for some strange reason, auditing. She was a walking encyclopedia of (especially German) psychology and philosophy (much to the chagrin of our instructor), and would often regale us with various remembrances. The title of this posting is one wag's joke about what she'd say while tickling a baby ... "Nietzsche, Nietzsche, Nietzsche!". Unfortunately, this was about as close to reading Nietzsche as I got during my college career.

As such, my recently picking up Friedrich Nietzsche's The Genealogy of Morals was to make some attempt to fill in a particular intellectual gap from my college years. While I triple majored, and have read a vast deal in the ensuing decades, my grounding in "philosophy" is decidedly second or third hand for the most part. I have never much been drawn to philosophy as an area of study, and I think in reading this book I have come to some understanding of why.

Frankly, I can pick up the "broad strokes" of obscure physics theories in a reasonably-attentioned read of a well written book on the subject, and the same is true for most arcane religious texts. What I found in reading Nietzsche was that one is almost forced into reading and re-reading to "get" what is being meant. The Genealogy of Morals is a collection of three themed papers, with 17, 25, and 28 sections respectively, and it struck me as I was going through this that it would be more productive to have a small study group approaching this section by section, and then discussing each in turn. To be honest, unless one has an extreme aptitude for navel-gazing, this is more time out of one's life than I am willing to dedicate to it, having "places to know, people to be" (or something like that).

The three papers deal with "Good and Evil", "Guilt" and the "Ascetic Ideal", each grinding through Western (mainly, although aspects of Eastern thought do come into play, for instance where he attributes India the distinction of having the most "philosophic ability" and England the least) civilization as something of a battle between "master" and "slave" mentalities, with the former being more of the pre-Christian cultures and the latter the institutionalized cult of suffering, creating a world as an "ascetic planet, a den of discontented, arrogant, and repulsive creatures who never got rid of a deep disgust of themselves, of the world, of all life, and did themselves as much hurt as possible out of pleasure in hurting - presumably their one and only pleasure".

Almost more fascinating that the book is the brief biographical sketch that serves as its introduction, bringing all sorts of interesting facts to light (including how much of Nietzsche's "proto-Nazi" image came from his extremely anti-Semitic sister who took him in and managed his affairs during the mental decline of his last years) ... I suspect that I would have preferred reading a good biography of the man more than this one slice of his ideas. Of course, this is an issue of personal preference, I don't mean to dismiss the book, which (while hardly being a "fun read") was very interesting within its context. I guess I'm just not a "philosophy guy".

Anyway, this is another of those remarkable Dover Thrift Edition books, and has a cover price of a scant $3.00 ... which makes it an easy addition to one's library if one is inclined, as I was, to make the effort to add some Nietzsche to one's "mental mix". As noted on previous titles, these are available via brick-and-mortar vendors, but will likely need to be ordered (why stock the $3 Dover edition when you can stock somebody else's $9 version?). Again, keeping these "at the ready" as an add-on to order via Amazon, etc. is probably the best bet for times when one might be contemplating placing an order that would otherwise be just shy of the $25 free shipping level!


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