Yale University Press; 2001
Applying what principles of new-slanting daylight, writing in which manner or style, sharing what subtle degrees of perceptivity &mdash? How could anyone possibly proceed in writing a detailed commentary on Friedrich Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil? A daunting range of qualities surely is required to appreciate and interpret one of the most challenging and subtle books ever written.
What are some of these qualities of appreciation? Perhaps the most basic is one most honored in the breach, endeavoring to see Nietzsche whole:
Sadly, many academic as well as popular philosophical laborers have not gotten as far as attempting a unified overview, let alone succeeding. Failure of an overview puts our next principle of interpretation on a very shaky foundation indeed, the need to understand the truth. For without this whole view, Nietzsche's claim as Lampert puts it, of gaining a comprehensive perspective on the world and on the human disposition toward the world, cannot be met. A perspective that could claim to be true? Any bits of truth rounded up will be patchy, obscure, catch-as-catch-can as they tumble from Nietzsche's slippery cornucopia of ideas.
Seeing the truth presumes also that a commentator requires the courage to tell the truth. After more than a century, Nietzsche remains a controversial author, to say the least — and I believe that most who know his name and something of his reputation really have no idea even yet how explosive he is. Although transformational ideas may be stated clearly and simply, we may not find them easy. One of Lampert's subheadings for his commentary on Nietzsche's chapter "The Free Mind" puts it very concisely:
Are we really at the end of the Moral Period of our civilization? Can we survive without "immortal souls, and moral gods who reward and punish them"? Can we determine what is true about the world and our relations with it, without first fearfully asking — and self-censoring — Is this good? Are these good truths? Wicked thoughts indeed: a lover's problem.
And then can we reevaluate our ideas of the world and ourselves so that we align what is good upon what is true? For the alternative is to attempt to warp our values toward what is false, what is misunderstood or pretended, trustingly assumed or piously lied about. Indeed, such irrational or mendacious false values have powered so much of the history of the world to date that we may despair of ever finding an exit from the labyrinth of millennia, a way into sunlit clarity. It may require a bravery, or a toughness, that we do not have. Many, many leaders in the world, time out of mind, have presumed that we are not brave enough, or tough enough, to live in the true world as it is, this world, our world. Yet this is a lover's problem, we abandon it only at our utter cost.
Nietzsche's title and subtitle, Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future, requires that our interpreter have an ear and a sense of humor for wicked subtleties; and be able to cast a cold eye upon life and death, deep into past and future — while retaining a lover's appreciation and hope for humanity. For a real future for humanity that is in the long run livable must be based on the true, not a paradisal utopia based on promises of something else.
Yet if there are glimmers of light dawning, a Nietzschean Enlightenment on our horizon, how might a commentator on Beyond Good and Evil usefully re-present these thunder-and-lightning ideas, that Christianity is Platonism for the people and so forth? Our interpreter need not attempt to imitate Nietzsche's playful and shocking, experimenting and tempting style; rather to complement it. A Nietzschean complementary style might be clear, straightforward, helpfully annotative without distractions, above all insightful and sympathetic.
All easier said than done. To do his own task properly, our interpreter must know his audience and how to appeal to them, be able artfully to re-present esoteric Nietzschean ideas in a manner as compulsively readable as the original but with his own clarifying perspective, to create a riveting narrative worthy of its focus: a great book of philosophy and a noble work of humanity. For Beyond Good and Evil is a noble work, vastly repaying our time to understand it properly; an excellent interpretation of such a book truly must be a noble work in itself, as surprisingly beautiful as an offering of philosophy may be. To be given such a commentary, gratitude could be too small a word.
Laurence Lampert's book-length commentary, Nietzsche's Task: An Interpretation of Beyond Good and Evil, has strong connections to his other studies of Nietzsche. Nietzsche's Task is a close reading and analysis, chapter by chapter and section by section, of the subject book. This parallels Lampert's earlier concentration on a single book, Nietzsche's Teaching: An Interpretation of Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1986).
The method of close reading is Straussian, as Lampert explains and exemplifies in his Leo Strauss and Nietzsche (1996), a study of Strauss' pivotal essay, "Note on the Plan of Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil", and related matters Platonic, Nietzschean, and of Nietzsche contra Plato. Leo Strauss and Nietzsche approaches Beyond Good and Evil from another perspective than does Nietzsche's Task; I recommend reading Nietzsche's Task first, although Leo Strauss and Nietzsche is itself a fascinating study of philosophical impact and response.
For a grand and unmatched overview, see Lampert's Nietzsche and Modern Times: A Study of Bacon, Descartes, and Nietzsche (1993).
Beyond Good and Evil throws down a tremendous challenge, approached by Nietzsche in a deliberate, scintillating variety of ways, all followed illuminatingly by Lampert. Why is Plato so important in Nietzsche's view of history? Lampert summarizes Plato's alternative to the truth of the world, the dream of an ideal permanence and goodness — as rejected by Nietzsche:
What is the way not taken by Plato?
And the way not taken by Plato? Could that be the way of truth? Nietzsche aligns himself with nature, science, the free mind, the very free spirits who want to face the truth no matter how difficult or dangerous. But why should we risk ourselves, our good feelings about ourselves and society?
The Nietzschean Enlightenment, and the daybreak
Why should we risk facing the truth, living in the real world without the comforting falsehoods of millennia — unless we have to? And indeed, my friends, don't we have to? Is it not so that a real future for humanity that is in the long run livable must be based on the true, not a paradisal utopia based on promises of something else?
This is the Nietzschean Enlightenment that Laurence Lampert bespeaks with stunning clarity.
Could one accuse Nietzsche's Task of being very good Lampert but not so much Nietzsche? I think not; that everything is deftly fitted into the unified overview is the best evidence of this. I can convey here only a hint of the sweep of Nietzsche's Task. Lampert touches on his own reactions lightly and restrainedly, but allows Nietzsche to breathe forth as living inspiration. The book's straightforward integration is presented in a smooth and lively style that is a joy to read, great riches in a little room. And sometimes Lampert touches his tuning fork to Nietzschean gold with such perfect finesse that the true note still rings in my ears. — I'll urge you to look for these yourself, or find your own music here.
Nietzsche's Task is so clearly presented that one might profitably read it even before venturing into Beyond Good and Evil itself. But they are best read alternately. There is a lot of daylight here.
© 2007 Robert Wilfred Franson
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