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Christa Davis Acampora and Keith Ansell Pearson. Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil: A Reader’s Guide.

London: Continuum, 2011. ix + 270 pp. ISBN 0826473644.

Reviewed by Matthew Meyer

For many years, Anglo-American scholars paid scant attention to Nietzsche’s published works as integral wholes. Explicitly or implicitly, scholars agreed with Arthur Danto that Nietzsche’s texts had little order and coherence and so the interpreter’s task was to systematize Nietzsche’s philosophy for him by assembling ideas found throughout his corpus.[1] Recently, however, there has been a significant increase in scholarship focused on Nietzsche’s published works. Not only have a number of readings of On the Genealogy of Morals been produced in the past decade,[2] scholars have recently published works devoted exclusively to texts such as The Birth of Tragedy,[3] Human, All Too Human,[4] and The Gay Science.[5] Christa Davis Acampora and Keith Ansell Pearson’s Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil: A Reader’s Guide continues this trend. It is now one of three works published in the last fifteen years on the whole of Beyond Good and Evil—Laurence Lampert[6] and Douglas Burnham[7] offer the others—and Acampora and Pearson’s effort represents a fine contribution to this line of scholarship.

What is common to each of these readings is a rejection of Danto’s view that Nietzsche’s works appear to be assembled rather than composed. Just as Lampert claims that BGE is a “carefully composed and stirring drama” about the importance of philosophy,[8] Acampora and Pearson claim that, BGE “has a definite organization and complex structure which can be grasped when looking at it whole” (6). What distinguishes Acampora and Pearson’s work from Lampert’s is that whereas the latter defends a novel interpretation of Nietzsche’s text to an advanced readership, the primary purpose of Acampora and Pearson’s reader’s guide is to introduce the context, structure, and themes of BGE to those less familiar with Nietzsche’s thought.

Burnham’s work, which is also addressed to the introductory reader, is therefore the closest competitor to what Acampora and Pearson offer. In contrast to Burnham’s section-by-section commentary, Acampora and Pearson devote single chapters to each of the nine parts of BGE. After providing some historical context in the first chapter and an overview of the text that includes a summary of the individual aphorisms in the second chapter, they then divide the remaining chapters into discussions of the various themes that appear in each of the nine parts (and the aftersong) of BGE. Thus, part I of Nietzsche’s text is the focus of Acampora and Pearson’s third chapter, which they divide into sections such as “will and affirmation of life” and “judgment and taste.” The advantage of this approach is that it avoids the tedious paraphrasing and repetition that can sometimes occur in section-by-section commentaries. One disadvantage is that it can make it difficult to locate what Acampora and Pearson have to say about a particular aphorism. To this end, an index locorum would have been helpful.

One of the great virtues of Acampora and Pearson’s guide is that they bring to their reading of BGE an extensive knowledge of current scholarship, the historical sources of Nietzsche’s thought, Nietzsche’s other texts, and his late Nachlass. In so doing, they not only reveal the relationships between the various aphorisms and the internal structure of the text, they also point the reader beyond the text to complete Nietzsche’s open-ended aphorisms. For instance, they supplement Nietzsche’s talk of masks (BGE 40) with a discussion of the Apollonian and Dionysian from The Birth of Tragedy (58-64), and they complement Nietzsche’s views on religious psychology with an exploration of the intellectual conscience found in works such as The Gay Science, Assorted Opinions and Maxims, and Ecce Homo (77-80). Similarly, they turn to Nietzsche’s Nachlass to clarify the often cryptic remarks in the published works. Furthermore, they alert the reader to important influences on Nietzsche’s thinking, discussing his relationship not only to well-known philosophers such as Plato, Kant, and Schopenhauer, but also to less well-known figures such as F. A. Lange, Roger Boscovich, Afrikan Spir, W. H. Rolph, and Wilhelm Roux. Finally, they make good use of the secondary literature in developing their points and include a helpful guide to further reading, along with some study questions, at the end of the book. By expanding on the ideas of BGE in this way, they provide numerous insights that a less experienced reader of Nietzsche could not win through a careful reading of the text alone.

Although they offer relatively little discussion of the distinction between dogmatism and perspectivism that appears in the preface of BGE—in contrast, Clark and Dudrick devote the first chapter of their work on the opening sections of BGE to the issue[9]—Ansell-Pearson and Acampora provide insightful and accurate readings of some of Nietzsche’s most important doctrines. For instance, they situate their discussion of the will to power and the eternal recurrence within a broader framework of Nietzsche’s response to Schopenhauer’s pessimism, rightly claiming that Nietzsche’s project of affirming life turns on one’s capacity to affirm the suffering that Schopenhauer’s philosophy reveals (35ff.). In their discussion of the will to power, they argue that Nietzsche distances himself from Schopenhauer’s metaphysics not only because the will to power, as an understanding of reality that reduces the world to dynamic forces constituted by their relations (48), is not a substitute for the “thing in itself,” but also because the will to power captures the tendency of entities to discharge strength and expand, rather than merely adapt and survive (34–35, 47). In their discussion of the eternal recurrence (BGE 56), they note that the doctrine appears variously in Nietzsche’s notebooks “as a cosmological hypothesis, a new center of gravity with respect to existence, an existential challenge, and a new mode of being ethical” (87). They also emphasize the way in which it constitutes Nietzsche’s attempt “to think pessimism to its depths” and to offer “the highest formula of affirmation attainable” (89).

In their discussion of the eternal recurrence, Acampora and Ansell-Pearson also broach the topic of love and, in particular, the love of fate (amor fati) (90), and their repeated references to love throughout their reading constitute a significant contribution to the standing literature on BGE. In this sense, their work expands upon Lampert’s concluding remark that “Nietzsche’s philosophy is a love story.”[10] Particularly illuminating is their reading of the “curious collection of aphorisms” found in part IV, where they claim that “nearly every other ‘saying’ in part IV makes reference to some form of love or to some effect love has on us” (100). Similarly illuminating is the contrast they identify in their discussion of the closing aphorisms of part VIII between the passion expressed in Bizet’s Carmen, which Nietzsche associates with an elevating pathos needed for philosophy, and “the notion of love as selfless,” exemplified by Wagner’s Kundry (189–190).

Love also plays a central role in Ansell-Pearson and Acampora’s discussion of the final part of BGE. Not only do they associate love with Nietzsche’s concept of nobility (196), they also note the significance of Dionysus’ appearance as the “genius of the heart” at the end of the text (206ff.). While they claim that Nietzsche summons Dionysus to show that morality is “a product of human invention and creativity,” they also argue that Dionysus’ appearance reinforces “Nietzsche’s interest in love” (209) and “the relation between value-creation and love” (206). Indeed, one could expand on their insights by noting that Dionysus as the genius of the heart can be contrasted with the appearance of Jesus as the knower of the heart in BGE 269 and further contend that the two figures symbolize the difference between an eros that Schopenhauer equates with selfishness (Selbstsucht) and a selfless pity (Mitleid) that Schopenhauer equates with Christian love or agape.[11] This distinction not only parallels the two types of love represented by Carmen and Kundry discussed above, but also points to the Dionysus-Crucified opposition at the end of Ecce Homo.[12]

Although there is much in Acampora and Ansell-Pearson’s work to be recommended, they present a reading of the final stages of BGE that is, in my estimation, overly skeptical about Nietzsche’s hopes for future philosophers and new nobility. Intimations of this reading appear in their opening remarks on part I, where the authors note that “questioning is [Nietzsche’s] chief objective” (29), and in their discussion of the philosophical legislator (BGE 211), where they claim that Nietzsche’s “thinking on the future is more speculative and open-ended than it might appear” (145). This interpretive line crescendos in their treatment of the noble soul, the subject matter of part IX, where they cast doubt on the commonly held view that Nietzsche seems to prefer noble values to the slavish values critiqued in On the Genealogy of Morals (191).

They support their skeptical reading by making two moves. First, they emphasize that the German title of the section, “Was ist Vornehm?,” is in the interrogative, and so it could be that Nietzsche is not explaining what nobility is, but raising a question to which he does not know the answer (191). Second, they argue that, even though the endings of the preceding parts anticipate the coming of future philosophers, the final section exhibits how “things fall apart” (209). The falling apart of the text, argue Acampora and Ansell-Pearson, not only warns us against becoming Nietzsche’s disciples, it also expresses “a dynamic of self-overcoming that is characteristic of all development” (206). Evidence for this falling apart comes from two areas in part IX and the aftersong: first, there is a curious break in the aphorisms of part IX that occurs somewhere between BGE 269 and 275 (204); second, the final aphorism of the text (BGE 296) seems to disrupt “our expectations for a new program for nobility” (209); finally, they argue that the ultimate theme of the aftersong is “continual self-mastery and self-overcoming” (216), which entails that all things, including Nietzsche’s own project, must “go under” (207).

There are three problems with such a reading. First, although Nietzsche is expressing certain reservations in the final passages of the work, they have more to do with the communicability of the project than the project itself.[13] Second, Acampora and Ansell-Pearson argue that Nietzsche “undermines his capacity and authority to engage in the grander project of nobility” because he indicates that these are “his propositions, his truths, and his prejudices” (209). However, rather than undermining the project of nobility, the self-referential nature of Nietzsche’s claims seems to highlight his commitment to it. This is because the noble soul does not look to the authority of some objective truth to ground his or her propositions. Instead, the noble soul experiences itself as determining values (BGE 260). Finally, although self-overcoming is a central theme of Nietzsche’s philosophy, it is not clear that it should be applied to Nietzsche’s works, and if it should be, it is not clear that it should be applied to BGE rather than, say, to the self-overcoming of morality that Nietzsche enacts in the works of the free spirit or even to his collapse into madness.

In the end, my concern is not so much that Acampora and Ansell-Pearson offer a reading of the final stages of the text that I find unpersuasive, but that they do so within the context of a reader’s guide. For such a genre, a more neutral exposition of the contents of the final part of BGE, one similar to the treatments they provide of the preceding sections, would have been more fitting. Nevertheless, their novel emphasis on love is an attractive approach to the text, and so perhaps one cannot have it both ways. Moreover, the work as a whole should be commended for providing a clear, accessible, and illuminating account of the contents of BGE by bringing to bear an extensive knowledge of Nietzsche’s texts and Nietzsche scholarship. For these reasons, I highly recommend this volume to introductory students and well-seasoned readers of Nietzsche alike.

University of Scranton

Notes

[1] Arthur Danto, Nietzsche as Philosopher (New York: Columbia University Press, 1965), p. 19.

[2] Brian Leiter, Routledge Philosophy Guidebook to Nietzsche on Morality (London: Routledge, 2002); David Owen, Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morality (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2007); Daniel Conway, Nietzsche’s On the Genealogy of Morals: A Reader’s Guide (London: Continuum, 2008); Lawrence J. Hatab, Nietzsche’s On the Genealogy of Morality: An Introduction (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008).

[3] Paul Raimond Daniels, Nietzsche and The Birth of Tragedy (Durham: Acumen, 2013).

[4] Jonathan Cohen, Science, Culture, and Free Spirits: A Study of Nietzsche’s Human, All-Too-Human (Amherst, NY: Humanity Books, 2010).

[5] Monika M. Langer, Nietzsche’s Gay Science: Dancing Coherence (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010).

[6] Laurence Lampert, Nietzsche’s Task: An Interpretation of Beyond Good and Evil (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001).


[7] Douglas Burnham, Reading Nietzsche: An Analysis of Beyond Good and Evil (Stocksfield: Acumen, 2007).


[8] Lampert, Nietzsche’s Task, p. 3.


[9] Maudemarie Clark and David Dudrick, The Soul of Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012).


[10] Lampert, Nietzsche’s Task, p. 302.


[11] Arthur Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation (Vol. 1), section 67.


[12] For more on the distinction between these two types of love in relation to Ecce Homo, see Christa Davis Acampora, “Beholding Nietzsche: Ecce Homo, Fate and Freedom,” in The Oxford Handbook of Nietzsche, ed. K. Gemes and J. Richardson (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), pp. 363–383.


[13] See Lampert, Nietzsche’s Task, pp. 278ff.