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Paolo D’Iorio, Response to Emmanuel Salanskis

Response to Salanskis' review of Paolo D’Iorio, Le voyage de Nietzsche à Sorrente (Paris: CNRS-Éditions, 2012), JNS 44:1

In his review of my book, Le voyage de Nietzsche à Sorrente, Emmanuel Salanskis writes that it is an agreeable read and philologically precise, but that it presents some philosophical difficulties.

The first alleged difficulty lies in the conception of ‘epiphany’. Salanskis asks, "Can we really include Nietzsche among adherents of an aesthetics of the 'instant' (p. 170) like Virginia Woolf?." No, certainly not. On the page cited I discuss James Joyce’s conception of epiphany (and mention Virginia Woolf only in passing) in order to distinguish Joycean epiphanies and the aesthetics of the instant from Nietzsche’s epiphanies. The latter, I argue shortly thereafter, are "from an epistemological point of view not moments of mystical illumination, expressions of non-rational knowledge where an ontologically different dimension manifests itself, to which the inspired subject would have a privileged access" (p. 177). The difficulty here therefore lies not with my argument, but with the reviewer’s misreading.

Salanskis also sees a problem with my periodization. He writes that according to me, "the so-called Wagnerian period of The Birth of Tragedy and the Untimely Meditations actually represents a digression in the development of Nietzsche’s thinking," to which he objects that "reducing five of Nietzsche’s published books to a digression sounds unconvincing." But I nowhere refer to this period as a digression. The French term I use is phase, properly translated into English as ‘phase,’ and the German word, Phase, is the very term Nietzsche uses to refer to the ten years of his Wagnerian period (eKGWB/BVN-1878,741 and eKGWB/NF-1878,27[65]). To suggest that five books constitute a ten year phase—rather than the reviewer’s interpolated "digression"—is not at all unconvincing, and is, incidentally, consistent with what scholars using the old three-part periodization typically thought of these texts.

The idea of a unique, Wagnerian phase in the development of Nietzsche’s philosophy is also not a peculiar stance invented by me, as Salanskis suggests. One finds it already in an important article by Mazzino Montinari, published first in Italian in 1984 and later in French in the Cahier de l’Herne dedicated to Nietzsche (a kind of French Nietzsche companion) to which I refer on page 89 of my book. According to Montinari: "Nietzsche called this [Wagnerian period] the Jesuitism of his youth, that Jesuitism which, in his view, represents a 'phase'. And this word does not mean the first phase of a series but the Wagnerian, Schopenhauerian phase he then left behind him (there are no other phases)" ("Nietzsche contra Wagner: été 1878," in Nietzsche, edited by M. Crépon, Paris: L’Herne, 2000, p. 238).

Furthermore, I submit that a philosophical analysis of Nietzsche notes, his Basel lectures and his published works from 1866 to 1878 renders this claim not only convincing, but verifiable. In briefest outline, Nietzsche’s philosophical reflections begin with his remarks on Democritus, his critique of Schopenhauer’s metaphysics and his study of purposiveness. Soon thereafter he becomes fascinated by Wagner, formulates a metaphysics of art and becomes a partisan of German cultural renewal. Even in this period, however, Nietzsche’s private notes and his Basel lectures indicate his ongoing interest in a non-metaphysical and, in many ways, positivistic way of thinking. This division between the metaphysical and Wagnerian positions that he endorsed in public and his private, non-metaphysical and anti-Wagnerian thinking is solved in Sorrento, when he finally concludes his Wagnerian phase and finds the way to his true philosophy. This is, of course, a reconstruction of the general movement of his thought, and I acknowledge that there may be exceptions on certain points. A reviewer is certainly welcome to address the exceptions, or even to take issue with the overall interpretation, but one would hope that this would be done with arguments, not simply with the claim that "reducing five of Nietzsche’s published books to a digression sounds unconvincing."

One final clarification. Salanskis claims to find a contradiction in one of the book’s central arguments. "To say that the Wagnerian period was a digression," he writes, "implies that Nietzsche had a philosophy before 1876 [presumably Salanskis means ‘before 1869’]—a significant qualification to the thesis that Nietzsche’s stay in Sorrento marks his 'Becoming a philosopher,' as the title to D’Iorio’s introduction puts it." Salanskis goes on to say that I regard Nietzsche’s first period a "Democritean, rather than Schopenhauerian or Wagnerian." But nowhere in my book did I write that Nietzsche had developed a "Democritean philosophy" in 1867-1868. I merely call attention to his early reflections on Democritus, Schopenhauer, and other philosophical subjects, which we find scattered in his notebooks of the time when he planned to write a Ph.D. in classical philology. I wrote that we should "bracket the Wagnerian phase and establish a stronger continuity between the first reflections contained in Nietzsche’s early writings and the philosophy of the free spirit contained in Human, All Too Human" (p. 89). For in Sorrento Nietzsche decides to become a philosopher, ceasing his philological activity and his Wagnerian engagement and, above all, beginning to write and publish a series of genuinely philosophical books. With this, he becomes a philosopher—in 1878, he writes, "I live now aspiring myself to wisdom even in the smallest things, while in the past I used to just worship and idolize the wise" (eKGWB/BVN-1878,734, cf. Le voyage de Nietzsche à Sorrente, pp. 11-16, 52-66, 118-126). So, again, the problem seems to lie with faulty reading on the part of the reviewer. Nietzsche warned against such carelessness in reading his own texts (eKGWB/M-Vorrede-5), and even the humble scholarly monograph deserves careful reading by those who would review it, lest the review itself proves to be what is unconvincing.

Institut des Textes et Manuscrits Modernes (CNRS / École normale supérieure), Paris