Skip to content. | Skip to navigation

You are here: Home » Journal of Nietzsche Studies » Reviews » Claus Zittel, Das ästhetische Kalkül von Friedrich Nietzsches "Also sprach Zarathustra“
Document Actions

Claus Zittel, Das ästhetische Kalkül von Friedrich Nietzsches "Also sprach Zarathustra“

Würzburg: Königshausen und Neumann, 2000. 262pp. ISBN 978-3-8260-1836-7. Paper, EUR 25.00.

Reviewed by Axel Pichler

A thinker such as Nietzsche, in whose philosophy aesthetics played a major role from the beginning, cannot be approached properly with conventional philosophical reading strategies. This is also suggested by Nietzsche’s characterization of his own style of writing in his autogenealogy, Ecce Homo. Nietzsche writes there: “To communicate a state, an inner tension of pathos, with signs, including the tempo of these signs—that is the meaning of every style; and considering that I have an extraordinary number of inner states, I also have a lot of stylistic possibilities—the most multifarious art of style that anyone has ever had at his disposal” (EH “Books” 4).

Such a style of writing demands that its interpreters create a method of reading that is appropriate to the respective research question(s) and the respective Nietzschean text. In the following I will present and discuss one of the exegeses that has set new standards for such a close reading of Nietzsche’s self-proclaimed major work Thus spoke Zarathustra, Claus Zittel’s Das ästhetische Kalkül von Friedrich Nietzsches "Also sprach Zarathustra". Zittel, who published a short monograph on Nietzsche in 1995 entitled Selbstaufhebungsfiguren bei Nietzsche, takes seriously the fact that the text he is analyzing is a poetic work (a work of literature), which consistently denies traditional forms of reading. On this occasion the somewhat astonishing lack of philological and hermeneutical knowledge of some researchers turns out to be extremely problematic. Zittel manages, however, to move beyond the bare observation that stereotypical interpretative attempts fail in this respect. By combining philosophical and literary-critical approaches, Zittel brings his own methodological reflections and the textual specifics of Z into a dialogue right from the start.

This approach also manifests itself in Zittel’s central goal, to explicate the “aesthetic calculus” that constitutes Z. Zittel chooses this provocative term “to designate the meaning-constituting interactions and engagement of different but in themselves stringent and coherent aesthetic procedures” (10). The term underlines Zittel’s attempt to relate the form and content of Z strictly to each other, thereby interpreting Nietzsche’s philosophy out of its own aesthetic (self-)reflections.

The first part of Zittel’s threefold study begins with a critical examination of current philological and hermeneutical practices in Nietzsche and Zarathustra scholarship. Following modern theories of intertextuality, and as a consequence of the previously mentioned claim that the sense of a text such as Z is not given per se but is rather constituted “by the contrary of intertextual referential structures and their respective manifestations” (30), Zittel criticizes selected practices of the by now almost institutionalized use of source research [Quellenforschung]. By following Nietzsche’s own rejection of an unambiguous origin (cf. GM II:12), Zittel reproaches source research’s [Quellenforschung] current procedures and also the historical-critical commentary of the KGW. He claims that they interfere with “the reception of the text’s own structure of meaning by their limitation to a specific form of references” (34) and therefore determine future interpretations ideologically.[1] The specific form that Zittel has in mind here is the practice of “open quoting,” that is a direct quote out of another book. Such “open quoting” in the case of Nietzsche leads, in Zittel’s opinion, to a problematic dependency that falsely reverses the relation between source and text: Instead of starting with Nietzsche’s text and analyzing its own aesthetic treatment of its sources as sense-constituting, source research [Quellenforschung] tends to impute to the actual text a non-interpretative dependency upon its sources.[2]

In contrast to this oversimplifying form of reading, Zittel suggests a disconcerting of the reader through an exact philological and hermeneutical reading and thereby a clarification of the high complexity of the text: So “the bad alternative between the autonomy or dissolution [of the single text] could be avoided as one tries to grasp the ‘work’ as a product, which is about to emerge out of its relations to other texts” (66).

Therefore, to address these intertextual relations, Zittel’s own analysis needs a model of description that grasps such relations in an accurate manner. He finds this in Nietzsche’s own theory of relation, which he defines as the missing “link between Nietzsche’s theory of knowledge and his poetic practice” (79).

Accordingly, Zittel dedicates the book’s second part, entitled “Art and Relation,” to the investigation of this theory as well as of its aesthetic implications and conversions. Here, Zittel argues that Nietzsche’s theory of knowledge is completely relational. In its center one finds a hypothesis formulated by Nietzsche in his late Nachlass:

“The world […] does not exist as a world ‘in-itself’[sic]
it is essentially a world of relationships [Relations-Welt]: it has, under certain conditions, a different look [Gesicht] from every point [Punkt]” (KSA 13:14[93]).

Zittel pursues the origin of this thesis within Nietzsche’s work chronologically, showing that it plays a central role in Nietzsche’s early criticism of language and knowledge. Already in “On Truth and Lie in an Extra-moral Sense” the human is described as caught in the relational web of language, which is, because of its metaphorical character, far from any “thing in-itself” and therefore produces an always contingent, merely fictional picture of the world. So the thought of relationality [Relationalität] combines here with epistemological skepticism. However, Nietzsche’s metaphysical premises in his early work lead him to suppose a dual relational world, whereas his “agnostic epistemological nihilism” (82) in his late work leads him to radicalize his relational thinking. At the same time, Nietzsche ascribes an agonal character to the relational structure through the will to the power, which makes each determination of it merely transient. The consequences of this relational thinking are numerous: Each object is understood under these epistemological premises as relationally constituted, something that stipulates its fictional status and must not “again be ontologically positivized” (86). Furthermore, this picture of an agonal and dynamical relational world forbids the generalization of any of its categories; in a purely dynamic thinking, it is no longer possible to determine a pivot point. Zittel emphasizes that such a thinking necessarily requires an aesthetic realization, because “[i]n an aesthetic product, unity can be grasped as an interaction of also competing telescopes and therefore as a differential unity” (105).

In this chapter, one also finds two of the few points in Zittel’s study that could be criticized under even the most careful philological scrutiny. While Zittel emphasizes the importance of the interaction of content and form throughout his study, he seems to forget the connection asserted between them when reconstructing Nietzsche’s theory of relations as well as the “aesthetic perspectivism” (cf. 110-113) that lies right at the heart of Nietzsche’s theory of knowledge. Zittel seems to contradict his own methodological imperative by treating purported theories without consideration of their formal construction and their (intertextual) context—in just the same way as the traditional readings he criticizes. In order to be able to read these theories as fictionally unbroken and therefore as traditional philosophical remarks, Zittel should clarify the status of the aphorisms and their relation to one another in more detail.

The second point concerns the fact that Zittel grasps Nietzsche’s understanding of language exclusively through his early work and the dominant figure of the metaphor in that early work. Since there is no entirely accepted theory of metaphor, Zittel’s application of Nietzsche’s theory of metaphor into his own reading method is justified. But this application nonetheless supports, however implicitly, a view recently attacked in German-speaking Nietzsche scholarship, that of the continuity of Nietzsche’s philosophy of language.[3] A reference to the substitution of the metaphor by the sign, which Nietzsche performs in the writings flanking Z, would have been welcome in this regard.

The third and last section of the study, entitled “Poetic Nihilism,” turns to the actual realization of Nietzsche’s theories of relation in Z. Here, Zittel goes back to the already established diagnosis that the type and manner of the intertextual references in Z are semantically valent. Parody plays a fundamental role here, and Zittel finds in Z not only parody of the other but also, the further the text proceeds, self-parody. This self-parody leads, however, to self-consumption, which thus turns out also to be a key concept in Z (136). Zittel follows these procedures on the basis of selected examples from the text. For Nietzsche scholarship in general, the sub-chapter “Aesthetic Destruction of Myths and Doctrines,” is of special interest. In this section, Zittel demonstrates that even Nietzsche’s supposedly central doctrines such as eternal recurrence, the will to power, and the Übermensch, fall victims to an ongoing aestheticization [Ästhetisierung]: The eternal recurrence turns into a mere lyre song [Leierlied] of Zarathustra’s animals, which, however, realizes its general idea in the form of its representation (198); in case of the will to the power, the protagonist fails completely in attempting such an implementation (cf. 207); and the metaphor of the Übermensch as a bridge gets deconstructed by the intertextual realization of Nietzsche’s skepticism regarding language.

The study closes with the conclusion that the performative conversion of Nietzsche’s “poetic nihilism” leads to the “end of all stories.” No new paradigms can be based on Nietzsche’s self-consuming concepts. Therefore, the narrative modes in Z reflect the decay of moral values as well as the death of god, both dominating themes in Nietzsche’s “theoretical” writings. The proof of the dominance of the aesthetic modes mentioned above forbids reading Z as revealing the essence of Nietzsche’s doctrines. The numerous aesthetic refractions no longer permit the interpretation of the protagonist as a successful prophet.

Zittel’s study, surprisingly short for the work achieved in it (the book comprises just 260 pages), demonstrates once again the productivity of investigations that are concerned with the peculiarity of Nietzsche’s thinking even in their own methodological reflections. Zittel at the same time is able to emphasize the problematic status of studies that analyze Nietzsche’s works at too great a distance from their meta-reflectively articulated self-conceptions and from their often-correlated performative practices. Such studies, justified in their own terms, will hardly contribute any substantially new insights regarding Nietzsche’s own philosophy. Far too few scholars seem to be conscious of the difference between interpretation and adaptive utilization of someone else’s writings. As Zittel’s monograph clarifies, the value of Nietzsche’s philosophy might not lie exclusively in delivering innovative contributions to traditional philosophical debates, but might additionally be found in the fact that it performatively integrates insights emerging out of the criticism of these debates into its own way of writing. This means that the significance of Nietzsche for the present could lie more in its formal procedures than in its supposed contents. Separated from one another, neither aspect can be correctly analyzed. Perhaps this view can lead to further close and methodologically reflective readings of Nietzsche.[4]

Zentrum Moderner Orient Berlin

[1] Hans Gerald Hödl rejects Zittel’s attacks on the commentary practice of the KGW in his monograph as a form of "shadow-boxing". See his Der letzte Jünger des Philosophen Dionysos (Berlin/New York: Walter De Gruyter Press, 2009), 5, n.17. Hödl, who openly admits that Zittel’s study includes “very important and varied remarks on methodology and interpretation” of Z, emphasizes above all the heuristic difference between commentary and interpretation, which—in his view—Zittel does not perceive. Cf. Hödl 2009, 9. However, Hödl misses the crucial point of Zittel’s critique. Zittel does not reject the method of the KGW per se, but criticizes its lack of hermeneutical sensitivity. All he seems to be asking for is a notion of the selectivity of the chosen sources in the KGW commentary.

[2] For further information on intertextuallity, see also Gérard Genette, Palimpsets. Literature in the Second Degree (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1997).

[3] Cf. Josef Simon, Philosophie der Zeichen (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter 1989); Werner Stegmaier, “Nietzsches Zeichen,” Nietzsche-Studien 29 (2000): 41-69.

[4] I would like to thank Jacob Rump for comments on the first English draft of this paper.