Friedrich Nietzsche's On the Genealogy of Morality is a forceful, perplexing, important book. It is widely recognized in philosophical treatments as a major text in Nietzsche's writings, and it has been the focus of much analysis in recent years. The Genealogy is taught and assigned in other disciplines as well, particularly in political philosophy and literary theory. One reason for the text's popularity, besides the power of its ideas, is that of all Nietzsche's writings after The Birth of Tragedy, it most resembles the form of a "treatise," with extended discussions of organized themes and something of a historical orientation. As distinct from Nietzsche's typical aphoristic or literary styles, the Genealogy offers some advantages for classroom investigations. Yet one can hardly call this book a typical academic treatise. Nietzsche calls it a "polemic" and it is loaded with hyperbole, ambiguity, misdirection, allusion, provocation, iconoclasm, invective, prognostication, experiment, and Nietzsche's own vigorous persona.
Since Nietzsche has become a respectable figure in the academy (and he is one of the few post-Kantian continental philosophers taken seriously in Analytic circles), it is hard to appreciate the radical nature of the Genealogy in its nineteenth-century setting. Some readings tend to domesticate Nietzsche by pressing the text into the standard logistics of professional philosophers and contemporary theoretical agendas. Other readings miss the intellectual power of the book by overplaying its radical character in the direction of unhinged celebrations of difference and creativity (which actually perpetuates another kind of domestication).
In its own historical moment, the Genealogy is something of a bombshell. It aims to diagnose esteemed moral traditions as forms of life-denial, in that what is valued as "good" in these systems stands opposed to actual conditions of natural life. Yet Nietzsche's text is not promoting an "immoral" or "amoral" posture on behalf of presumably value-free life forces. Rather, Nietzsche wants to explore new possibilities of life-affirming values by drawing from historical sources that were deemed "immoral" by traditional moral systems, but that can be redeemed as morally defensible life-values. Accordingly, the "polemical" character of the Genealogy implies a double-negative structure, a fight against life-denying values on behalf of life-affirming values.
Although Christian morality is a prominent target in the Genealogy, Nietzsche's critique pertains to much more than simply religion. Christianity was a world-forming force at every level of culture, and Nietzsche maintains that even so-called modern "secular" moralities have not escaped the formative influences of Christianity and its life-negating elements. Moreover, the polemic in the Genealogy is not limited to morality narrowly construed as ethics. According to Nietzsche, moralistic judgments against natural life have also marked the bulk of Western intellectual and cultural history, not only in religion and ethics, but also in philosophy, politics, psychology, science, and logic.
These preliminary remarks can be borne out by considering the Genealogy in relation to the book immediately preceding it in Nietzsche's published works: Beyond Good and Evil. Walter Kaufmann notes that the title page of the Genealogy is followed by these words: "A sequel to my last book, Beyond Good and Evil, which it is meant to supplement and clarify."1 "To supplement" translates Ergänzung, which can also mean "completion." So it is particularly important to take Beyond Good and Evil into account when reading the Genealogy. In Ecce Homo, Nietzsche says that Beyond Good and Evil began his No-saying turn after the Yes-saying force of the Gay Science and Zarathustra, that it began his "great war" against established values (EHIII, BGE i). He further indicates that Beyond Good and Evil "is in all essentials a critique of modernity, not excluding the modern sciences, modern arts, and even modern politics, along with pointers to a contrary type that is as little modern as possible — a noble, Yes-saying type" (EH III, BGE 2). Thus the Genealogy, as a "completion" ofthis prior book, must also be read as a critique ofthe
1 Basic Writings of Nietzsche, ed. and trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Random House, 1966), p. 439.
modern world and the full range of intellectual constructs bearing on modern life. Of course, questions of ethics and politics are at the core of the Genealogy, but it should be recognized that its critique of "morality" is also a gateway to larger questions of knowledge, truth, and meaning, the traditional approaches to which Nietzsche diagnoses as likewise harboring moralistic judgments against natural life.
How should the Genealogy be approached as a philosophical text? Nietzsche rejects the notion that philosophy is an "impersonal" pursuit of knowledge; philosophy so conceived conceals a "personal confession," an "unconscious memoir," and so a philosopher's thought bears "decisive witness to who he is" (BGE 6). In considering a philosophical claim, one should ask: "What does such a claim tell us about the man who makes it?" (BGE 187). Philosophy can never be separated from existential interests, and so "disinterested knowledge" is a fiction (BGE 207; GMIII, 12, 26). Perspectives of value are more fundamental than objectivity or certainty. There is no being-in-itself, only "grades of appearance measured by the strength of interest we show in an appearance" (WP 588). Philosophy so construed means that the standard of demonstrable knowledge should be exchanged for the more open concept of "interpretation" (GS 374). Interpretation is the "introduction of meaning (Sinn-hineinlegen)" and not "explanation" (KSA 12, p. 100).2
The logical limits of answers to the deepest intellectual questions are an obvious feature of the history of thought, given the endurance of unresolved critiques and counter-critiques in philosophy. Rather than give up on such questions or resort to mystical, transcendent, even relativistic solutions, Nietzsche focuses on philosophy as an embodied expression of psychological forces. Critical questions that follow such a focus would no longer turn on cognitive tests (How can you prove X?) but on psychological explorations and probes (Why is X important to you?). Accordingly, for Nietzsche, philosophy is always value-laden and cannot be reduced to descriptive, objective terms or to a project of logical demonstration; and he is consistent in recognizing this in the course of his own writing: "What have I to do with refutations!" (GM P, 4). He often enough indicates that
2 For an important study, see Alan D. Schrift, Nietzsche and the Question of Interpretation: Between Hermeneutics andDeconstruction (New York: Routledge, 1990).
philosophy, including his own textual work, is a circulation of writing and reading that stems from, and taps into, personal forces and dispositions toward life. This does not mean that philosophy is nothing more than personal expression, even though the first person singular appears so often in Nietzsche's texts. For one thing, Nietzsche deploys the "we" as much as the "I," which suggests the importance of collective dimensions in culture. Moreover, Nietzsche explores a full range of philosophical questions about reality, the world, life, knowledge, and truth, with the aim of advancing compelling answers to these questions. Yet he insists that such advances cannot be understood adequately in a purely third-person fashion, apart from their meaning for human interests in the life-world.
The prevalence of the "I" and the "we" in Nietzsche's writings also implies a pervasive second-person perspective, that of "you" the reader. That is why we must engage Nietzsche's texts in their "addressive" function, because "reader response" is inseparable from the nature of a written text. Nietzsche's stylistic choices — hyperbole, provocation, allusions, metaphors, aphorisms, literary forms, and historical narratives not confined to demonstrable facts or theories — show that he presumed a reader's involvement in bringing sense to a text, even in exploring beyond or against a text. Nietzsche's books do not presume to advance "doctrines" as a one-way transmission of finished thoughts. Good readers must be active, not simply reactive; they must think for themselves (EH II, 8). Aphorisms, for example, cannot merely be read; they require an "art of interpretation" on the part of readers (GM P, 8). Nietzsche wants to be read "with doors left open" (D P, 5). This does not mean that Nietzsche's texts are nothing but an invitation for interpretation. Nietzsche's own voice and positions are central to his writings, and he takes many forceful stands on philosophical questions. Yet he did not write as, and did not want to be read as, a typical philosopher constructing arguments in pursuit of "objective truth." Whatever truth comes to mean in Nietzsche's philosophy, it cannot be a strictly objective or logical enterprise because truth must be alive in writers and readers.3
3 An excellent study in this respect is David B. Allison, Reading the New Nietzsche (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2001).
Nietzsche's vivid address to the cultural "we" and to "you" the reader is a baseline textual feature of the Genealogy, despite its surface resemblance to a treatise form. The book aims to stimulate an "introduction of meaning" between writer and reader which reaches further than the written text as such. Moreover, the question of meaning forged in the book presents deep challenges and dark provocations to traditional confidences and normal expectations about philosophy. Here is what Nietzsche says about the Genealogy in Ecce Homo:
Regarding expression, intention, and the art of surprise, the three inquiries which constitute this Genealogy are perhaps uncannier than anything else written so far... Every time a beginning that is calculated to mislead: cool, scientific, even ironic, deliberately foreground, deliberately holding off. Gradually more unrest; sporadic lightning; very disagreeable truths are heard rumbling in the distance — until eventually a tempo feroce is attained in which everything rushes ahead in a tremendous tension. In the end, in the midst of perfectly gruesome detonations, a new truth becomes visible every time among thick clouds. (EH III, GM)
As indicated earlier, some treatments of the Genealogy, while recognizing its unusual features, move to position the text in terms of current philosophical methods and agendas, or to situate it among previous thinkers and standard philosophical concepts. Other treatments take the book to be more wide open or enigmatic than any such placement. Much can be gained from all such approaches, but I have always been dissatisfied with them. Nietzsche was surely pursuing philosophical work of the highest order, and yet he specifically found fault with most philosophical methods as typically construed; and he challenged most traditional philosophical concepts as inadequate to the task of thinking. Nietzsche was a trained classicist, and so he knew quite well standard scholarly techniques and could have so deployed them in his writings. That he deliberately did otherwise shows that he intended his texts to display a disruptive tension with traditional academic work.
My own approach to the Genealogy can be summarized as follows: I try as far as possible to read the text on its own terms, in its own movements and counter-movements, with its own language and thought experiments. I try to avoid "translating" the text into this or that "theory" or this or that "-ism" or "-ology." I do this not out of some mere exegetical constraint of textual fidelity, but because
Nietzsche's text has its own kind of philosophical power that can be missed or suppressed when translated into familiar scholarly settings.4 In the Preface to the Genealogy, Nietzsche grants that some readers might find the book "incomprehensible and hard on the ears" (GMP, 8). He then suggests that the book will be clearer to those who "have first read my earlier works without sparing themselves some effort or trouble (MU'he)." Thus reading the Genealogy without much background in Nietzsche's thought can be a disadvantage. That is why my first chapter will provide an orientation in Nietzsche's philosophy that should provide some help. Succeeding chapters will take up the Preface and the three Essays of the Genealogy, moving through the numbered sections of the Essays in sequence. Yet my treatment cannot simply inhabit each section in its own textual space, because some flexibility is required in moving around the text for cross-referencing, and occasional excursions to some of Nietzsche's other books can be illuminating (this is particularly true with respect to Beyond Good and Evil, as has been noted). Also, in the course of my analysis, there will be occasional "Interludes" that engage supplemental topics or questions that should enhance comprehension ofthe material at hand. My hope is to provide readers of the Genealogy with as rich and nuanced an understanding of the book as possible. Yet the precautions about Nietzsche's writings sketched in this Introduction should always be kept in mind. As Nietzsche puts it (GM P, 8), his books "are indeed not easily accessible," and the Genealogy in particular requires "an art of interpretation," which is articulated as an "art of reading, a thing which today people have been so good at forgetting — and so it will be some time before my writings are 'readable' —, you almost have to be a cow for this one thing and certainly not a 'modern man': it is rumination." "Rumination" is a translation of Wiederkauen, literally "chewing again," or "chewing over" a text in a slow, careful manner.
4 For the purposes of my commentary, I will not overload the text with extensive discussions of the secondary literature, yet I will try to give readers enough guidance for recognizing and exploring a host of relevant scholarly treatments. Several sources will be drawn from the following collections: Nietzsche's On the Genealogy of Morals: Critical Essays, ed. Christa Davis Acampora (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2006); Nietzsche's Postmoralism: Essays on Nietzsche's Prelude to Philosophy's Future, ed. Richard Schacht (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001); and Nietzsche, Genealogy, Morality: Essays on Nietzsche's On the Genealogy of Morals, ed. Richard Schacht (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994).
As we will see, Nietzsche is notorious for castigating the "herd" and celebrating the "beast of prey." Yet it is interesting that, with respect to reading, he recommends a cow-like pace rather than, shall we say, "wolfing down" a text in big chunks, too quickly to savor every particle of thought. For Nietzsche, to read well is to "read slowly" (D P, 5). It is not simply a matter of speed here, but the kinds of analytical chunks that frame the text in familiar shapes, which are then swallowed whole. Moreover, we know that chewing food well is good for both our taste and our stomachs. Reading the Genealogy with rumination will not only reveal more complex and subtle flavors, it will also decrease the chances of indigestion.
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