What sort of text is On the Genealogy of Morals , this work that Nietzsche called the "uncanniest" of all books? Is it only a book about morals, as the title might indicate? Even the superficial reader will see that much more is at stake, since questions concerning politics and aesthetics are prominent. But could we also read more attentively and with an ear to hearing a certain diagnosis of the metaphysical condition and its tradition that are necessarily implicated in the genealogy of morals? Certainly Nietzsche begins to suggest ideas of this sort quite early in the text, as in his account of the way in which the morality of ressentiment is responsible for the invention of the metaphysical fiction of free will by which the doer is separated from the deed.
In this essay I want to suggest that there is a confrontation with the metaphysical tradition on an even larger scale that emerges in Nietzsche's account of the economy of guilt, debt, and credit that forms the subject especially (but not only) of the book's second essay "'Guilt,' 'Bad Conscience,' and the Like." In order to see this it will be necessary to place Nietzsche's Genealogy in the context of two other texts—Philosophy in the Tragic Age of the Greeks and Thus Spoke Zarathustra —that speak of penance, guilt, and redemption as themes characteristic of philosophy as we know it.
This contextualization can be made plausible, I think, by taking a look at Martin Heidegger's essay on Anaximander, who seems to have spoken of debt at the very beginning of the philosophical tradition, and so to have placed us all in his debt despite ourselves. Heidegger's essay, I want to suggest, is to a great extent a determined polemic with Nietzsche on the meaning of a sentence—and so on the sense of the tradition that harkens back to that sentence. Considering these two methods of Western philo-
sophical bookkeeping involves writing at least some initial promissory notes toward a final accounting of the ways in which Nietzsche and Heidegger succeed in marking a difference with and posing an alternative to the metaphysical economies of the tradition they articulate.
One of Heidegger's strangest and uncanniest readings of Western philosophy is his encounter with the saying reputed to be that of Anaximander, supposed to be its earliest surviving sentence. To read that saying, Heidegger thinks, requires nothing less than the destruction of the metaphysical tradition. The point of the destruction is to uncover what is unsaid and unthought in metaphysics in order to think of the beginning and the end that lie at the margins of the tradition, and to think in a way more attuned to origins than the tradition allows.
That the very beginning—that which might serve as an arche , an origin, or a principle—is available only in the form of a fragment, in fact a scrap from Simplicius's physics textbook dating from a thousand years after Anaximander's lifetime, is itself odd enough. Of course Heidegger cautions us that mere antiquity is not a proof of significance or profundity. Yet as Simplicius notes, Anaximander was the first to speak of the arche ; so what makes his saying a potential arche for philosophy is not only his place at the beginning but his having brought the beginning, or arche , into the world of thinking that we now take to define ourselves. Let us recall the saying in the same form in which Heidegger cites it initially, that is in the translation by the young Nietzsche.
Soon we'll see that the citation of this "conventional" translation is a crucial hinge in Heidegger's strategy, and that the confrontation with Nietzsche is a major theme of his essay "Der Spruch des Anaximanders. " What seems to be Heidegger's confession of a debt to Nietzsche, his owning up to an I.O.U., is in fact an attempt to free himself from any such obligation. To serve as a beginning is at the same time to open oneself to translation: the beginning must always be carried forward or carried over into another context. So in the "young Nietzsche's" translation from the posthumously published Philosophy in the Tragic Age of the Greeks (Heidegger emphasizes Nietzsche's youth: does that help to free from debt or does it reinforce it? Anaximander is in one sense the most youthful, and we are the oldest):
Whence things have their origin, there they must also pass away according to necessity; for they must pay penalty and be judged for their injustice, according to the ordinance of time.
This of course is an English version of Nietzsche's
Woher die Dinge ihre Entstehung haben, dahin müssen sie auch zu Grunde gehen, nach der Notwendigkeit; denn sie müssen Büsse zahlen und für ihre Ungerechtigkeiten gerichtet werden, gemäss der Ordnung der Zeit .
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