Supposing Nietzsche is a humanist-what then? Are there not grounds for the suspicion that we have not been well enough attuned to the ancient dimensions of our own identities to know what to do with this knowledge? Does our age’s preference for the novel and the revolutionary mean that unmasking Nietzsche this way will amount to his inevitable diminishment-and might that not be for the best, after all?
We may have needed to see him-and in his later years he may have felt the need to present himself-as the radical over turner of all things, as the beginning of a new millennium. We do want to feel that things are moving forward, do we not? Self-presentation as dramatic as that to which Nietzsche has given himself makes us wonder. Might it have been a strategy for obtaining a readership, one worked out during years of increasing isolation? Or was it perhaps compensatory grandeur for his utter neglect, or therapeutic ventilation, or the beginning of his breakdown? It is not at all impossible that he was simply caught up in a creative whirlwind as he fashioned his own Galatea, and that his intellectual art began to operate independently, following its own dynamics and seducing the artist whithersoever it willed. Perhaps, too, his late visions were deeply implicated in a long-labored upward-and-downward spiraling climb through many and many a beloved text-ah, through many a beloved meaning-toward what he had hoped would be his own beatitude. In that case, this “unmasking” might result not in the diminishment but in the expansion of Nietzsche’s own meaning. But Nietzsche the classical scholar? Nietzsche the humanistic pietist?! Do we recognize this Nietzsche? Should we?
As we near the hundredth anniversary of Nietzsche’s death, it may be time for a revaluation of the revaluator, time to shake some of the amnesia that haunts our sub modernist culture with its penchant for parody. We need to take another look at one whose dark thunderings and frenzied lightning bolts have provided son et lumière for each succeeding generation in the twentieth century. No doubt he intended to pull us from the arms of some collective Morpheus-using to that end music that was itself usually entrancing, though not always melodious, not always harmonious. His influence has been staggering, but has it “worked“? Maybe the opera is not yet over. We should not, prematurely confident, assume that we have heard it all. Even if we have, we may need to replay it several times in order to come to appreciate it. Philology is the art of slow reading, as Nietzsche reminds us. It also is the art of reading widely and the art of reading repeatedly. There may be more magic here than we had at first suspected, more than we were ready to confess that we actually like-or deplore. But can we discover Nietzsche now? Did he hide himself in order to be discovered? Certainly he has eluded us, this man of knowledge, to the extent that we have not come to know ourselves. Perhaps his life and work were designed as a parable that would trick us into self-discovery. — From the author’s Preface