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Manuel Dries, ed., Nietzsche on Time and History

Berlin/New York: Walter De Gruyter, 2008. xiv + 328 pp. ISBN 978-3-11-019009-0. $105 (hardcover).

Reviewed by Wolter Hartog

The volume Nietzsche on Time and History brings together fourteen essays that were presented during the 15th International Conference of the Friedrich Nietzsche Society (UK), held in Cambridge, back in September 2005. The articles are written by leading Nietzsche scholars, mainly from the Anglo-American world. Together they aim at establishing the correlation between Nietzsche's philosophy of time and his philosophy of history. The contributions are divided into the following five parts: I. Time, History, Method; II. Genealogy, Time, Becoming; III. Eternal Recurrence, Meaning, Agency; IV. Nietzsche's Contemporaries; V. Tragic and Musical Time.

The scholarly quality of the articles in general is rather high and many of them offer interesting insights to these important themes in Nietzsche. However, the way in which they are jointly presented, as if they were part of the common undertaking of investigating the correlation between Nietzsche's philosophy of time and his philosophy of history, is not convincing. There is, as we shall see, hardly any article that explicitly deals with how Nietzsche's view on time affects his approach to history or vice versa. And although the editor, Manuel Dries, does offer a reasonable explanation in his introduction of how Nietzsche's emphasis on both time and history could be related to Nietzsche's rejection of what Dries calls the 'staticist worldview' (1-12), he does not clarify sufficiently in which ways the articles themselves deal with this issue.

Therefore, instead of treating this volume as a homogeneous whole, I will discuss some tensions within and between the articles. In this way, I will illustrate the way in which they separately treat the central points of discussion with regard to the issues of time and history. In doing so, I will divide the articles into those that primarily focus on Nietzsche's philosophy of time and those that focus mainly on his approach to history, instead of following the rather inconvenient structure of the book into five parts.[1]

The article that most closely connects with the issue that has been raised in the introduction, is the article of Dries in the second part of the volume, entitled ''Towards Adualism: Becoming and Nihilism in Nietzsche's Philosophy.'' Admittedly, this extensive article covers a great deal of problems that are connected with this issue, for example the relation between the belief in being and nihilism, the problem of grasping the notion of becoming in conceptual language, and the connection with time. A question might be raised, however, with regard to the central claim that Dries makes in his article, that nihilism is a function of the belief in being (114-6). Should this not be the other way around? Is the belief in being, according to Nietzsche, not rather a symptom of the nihilistic inclination within humanity? And does Nietzsche not expose it as such, by way of a genealogically, rather than an ontologically oriented approach?

The contribution by R. Kevin Hill, ''From Kantian Temporality to Nietzschean Naturalism,'' focuses on the status of time in Nietzsche. The author traces the development from Nietzsche's early transcendental idealism with regard to time towards his later naturalism. While the early Nietzsche considers time to be the projection of a primordial mind, the later Nietzsche perceives the mind, including its projective notion of time, as part of the temporal process of interpreting power relations. The commitment to two notions of time, to which this interpretation leads, could be related to the distinction that Dries makes in his article between the temporality of the process of becoming, which he designates as a pre-conscious background time, and time as perceived by conscious beings within the struggle of interpreting power relations, a perspectival conscious time (130-2).[2]

This distinction between two notions of time is contradicted, however, in Jonathan R. Cohen's article on ''Nietzsche's Musical Conception of Time'' in the fifth part. In this creative contribution, the author analyzes Nietzsche's musicological critique of Wagner's appropriation of 'endless melody' technically and explains it visually with the help of copies of some original music-scores. In relating this to Nietzsche's conception of time, the author argues, contrary to the previous contributions, that the later Nietzsche rejects any distinction between some kind of 'real' time and time as perceived by us. Instead, it is the subjective and perspectival nature of time, which makes our experience of music into one of the most appropriate metaphors to describe our perceptions of time (305-7).

The remaining four articles that deal with time all discuss this theme in connection with meaning. The article of John Richardson on ''Nietzsche's problem of the Past'' is included in the second part, but fits better with the articles of Lawrence J. Hatab, Paul S. Loeb, and Herman W. Siemens in the third. Together with Hatab's article, ''Shocking Time: Reading Eternal Recurrence Literally,'' and Loeb's contribution, ''Suicide, Meaning, and Redemption,'' Richardson explores the problem to which the thought of eternal recurrence is supposed to offer a solution. For him, this is the problematic status of the past, to which the image of the eternal return offers a solution by reconciling the retrospective, genealogical stance with the projective, willing stance towards life (105). For Hatab instead, his 'literal' interpretation of the thought of the eternal recurrence contains a possible solution to the existential task of coming to terms with meaning and value in life. Loeb, in turn, reverses the model of meaning that is implied in Hatab's account, which perceives suicide to be an act of particular life-denial (167; cf. 153). In contrast to this, Loeb shows that for people to whom the meaning of life poses a problem, the act of committing suicide would actually be an affirmation of life in general. In contrast to Richardson, Loeb emphasizes the absolute meaninglessness of the past, which is even intensified by the thought of eternal recurrence. From this, Loeb concludes bluntly that the thought of eternal meaninglessness will force humankind to commit collective suicide, whereas only the superhumans will be able to create meaning by way of their cosmological understanding of eternal recurrence, as it allows them to have a causal influence on their past willing (184-6).

Even without being in 'hermeneutic denial' with regard to the more cruel aspects of Nietzsche's philosophy, it can be shown that Loeb's interpretation of Nietzsche's texts is one-sided and that it faces serious philosophical problems.[3] At the same time, however, his blunt reading of Nietzsche does challenge the more gracious Nietzsche-interpretations, like the previous article of Hatab, but also the following contribution of Siemens, to deal with the problem of the role of cruelty and destruction in Nietzsche's supposed agonal way of thinking. In his article on ''Nietzsche and the Temporality of (Self-)Legislation,'' Siemens does admit that Nietzsche's agonistic and pluralistic model of legislation, which he finds in the background (i.e. the Nachlaß-notes from the period) of Thus Spoke Zarathustra, cannot of itself secure the conditions for preventing it from falling into coercion and tyranny (208-9). But also the more pertinent question to what extent this agonal model can really account for the destructive elements in Nietzsche's Dionysian view of life, is a problem that still needs to be addressed.

The second group of articles deals with Nietzsche's historical methodology, either with regard to natural history in general, or more specifically to cultural history. The article of Tinneke Beeckman, ''Nietzsche's Timely Genealogy: An Exercise in Anti-Reductionist Naturalism,'' is included in the second part. Apart from a few remarks of Richardson in his article, it is the only article that explicitly deals with Nietzsche's method of genealogy. Strikingly, however, her Nietzschean criticism of contemporary Darwinists, who consider cultural evolution to be a process guided solely by external mechanisms, bears directly on the few remarks that Richardson makes about his Darwinian interpretation of Nietzsche's genealogy. Richardson argues that Nietzsche's genealogical method entails a model of cultural evolution in which social selection, analogous to natural selection, selects particular habits of herding for their benefit to society's cohesion and strength (93-4). In the perspective of Beeckman, such an approach fails to acknowledge the role that Nietzsche ascribes to the active and creative force of humanity within the process of cultural evolution.

The articles that deal with Nietzsche's approach to classical history and philology are collected in part I, as well as in part IV of the volume. All these articles converge, in a way, in Thomas H. Brobjer's article on ''The Late Nietzsche's Fundamental Critique of Historical Scholarship.'' In this article, Brobjer proceeds from his earlier claim that Nietzsche's critique of historical scholarship in ''On the Uses and Disadvantages of History for Life'' is not representative for the later Nietzsche.[4] Instead, the later Nietzsche develops a more explicit criticism of historical scholarship, aimed at its ideal of objectivity, its idea of progress, its treatment of history as a goal in itself, and its reactive character (52-4). Brobjer's strong emphasis on the discontinuity in Nietzsche's thought with regard to his early writings (BT and UM) is challenged indirectly by the contribution of Anthony K. Jensen, entitled ''Geschichte or Historie? Nietzsche's Second Untimely Meditation in the Context of Nineteenth-Century Philological Studies.'' Jensen shows that Nietzsche, in writing his second Untimely Meditation, actually participated in a contemporary scholarly debate between 'critical' Wort-Philologie and the more 'hermeneutical' and 'antiquarian' Sach-Philologie, which he tried to overcome by his own 'monumental' approach of dealing with history (215). The indication that Nietzsche in HL already participates in the scholarly debate on the use of historical methods, instead of discrediting them altogether, challenges Brobjer to account for the continuity with regard to the early writings as well. For many of Nietzsche's later criticisms, such as his critique on objectivity and on history as a goal in itself, already seem to be present in HL (see e.g., HL 4 (history as a goal in itself); HL 6 (objectivity)).

Towards the end of his article, Brobjer hints at Nietzsche's own model of history by referring to his emphasis on the importance of cultural history, his recognition of Thucydides as his role model, and his appraisal of, amongst others, Jacob Burckhardt (58-9). All three components are further elaborated in three complementary articles. First, in ''Nietzsche's Cultural Criticism and his Historical Methodology,'' Andrea Orsucci highlights the contemporary relevance of Nietzsche's historical methodology by illuminating it as an 'untimely' approach, which reveals the cultural heterogeneity of this 'age of disintegration' (BGE 200) as resulting from the influence of different ancient civilizations and cultures. Next, Raymond Geuss analyzes Nietzsche's preference for Thucydides' non-moralizing and anti-rationalistic portrayal of human beings over Plato's optimistic rationalism in ''Thucydides, Nietzsche, Williams.'' Geuss honors the late Bernard Williams as an adherent of Nietzsche's ideal of a ''Thucydides who philosophizes'' (49). Finally, in his lengthy and extremely well-documented article, '''An Uncanny Re-Awakening': Nietzsche's Renascence of the Renaissance out of the Spirit of Jacob Burckhardt,'' Martin A. Ruehl illuminates the ambiguous influence of Burckhardt on Nietzsche's interest in the Renaissance.

In sum, this volume provides an excellent overview of current interpretations on the themes of time and history in Nietzsche, offering various, contrasting perspectives on it. As such, the volume could be considered a unique contribution to the existing scholarly literature. For in spite of the numerous articles that have been written on both issues, no similar collection that brings together articles on these two interconnected themes has been published before. However, as we have seen, the volume as a whole fails in its attempt to establish the correlation between time and history in Nietzsche. In this regard, it does not fulfill the need for an in-depth study of how Nietzsche's philosophy of time and becoming affects his so-called 'historical turn', as he himself suggests in several notes (see e.g., KSA 11:36[27]; 11:38[14]). For scholars working on this issue, or on issues related to either time or history, this volume does provide a helpful tool to get an overview of some excellent interpretations on these issues. The comprehensive Index rerum et nominum at the end of the book will be of great help in selecting the most relevant articles and passages.

Catholic University Leuven


   1. The first article of part V, ''Metaphysical and Historical Claims in The Birth of Tragedy,'' written by Katherine Harloe, will not be discussed here. Despite her excellent argumentation against Porter's anti-Schopenhauerian and Anti-Wagnerian reading of BT, the contribution barely deals with time or with history (contrary to the suggestion in the title). Including it in the volume seems not to be justified, at least not on thematic grounds.
   2. Both authors refer to the distinction that Richardson makes in his recent article on this topic between perspectival time and the temporal structure of the will to power. John Richardson, ''Nietzsche on Time and Becoming,'' in A Companion to Nietzsche, ed. K. A. Pearson (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2006), 208-29.
   3. One major problem is that Loeb interprets Nietzsche's comments on the self-destructive tendency within humanity, for example in GM, straightforwardly as a recommendation for collective suicide, whereas the only note in which Nietzsche sketchily seems to predict such a mass-suicide, is directly followed by the need for ''maintaining ourselves'' (KSA 10:2[4]). For there obviously will be no future Over-man if the bridge towards it, man, perishes too soon. Furthermore, the only more or less explicit exhortation to commit suicide in Thus Spoke Zarathustra is directed to the ones that already long for death (Z I:9, I:21). With the regard to the ability of the 'superhumans' to have a causal influence on their past willing by way of 'mnemonic willing' and a 'recurrence-conscience', there seems to be no textual evidence for the possibility of transmitting mnemonic information from one life-time to another. Nietzsche's remark in one of his notes that ''there lies ''no time'' between one's last moment of consciousness and the first appearance of new life'' (KSA 9:11[318]) does not imply that one can actually transmit information to one's younger self's subconscious. This would imply the extra assumption of the possibility of some kind of telepathy, for which there is no evidence in Nietzsche's writings. Moreover, Loeb's finding of the notion of pre-cognition in the visions and dreams that Zarathustra experiences in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, does not take into account the obvious poetical and fictional nature of the narrative. See also Loeb's ''Identity and Eternal Recurrence,'' in A Companion to Nietzsche, ed. K. A. Pearson (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2006), 171-188.
   4. See his ''Nietzsche's View of the Value of Historical Studies and Methods,'' Journal of the History of Ideas 65, no. 2 (2004): 301-322, and his ''Nietzsche's Relation to Historical Methods and Nineteenth-Century German Historiography.'' History and Theory 46 (2007): 155-179.