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Jacob Golomb, Weaver Santaniello, and Ronald Lehrer, editors, Nietzsche and Depth Psychology

Albany: State University of New York Press, 1999. 364 pp + xv. ISBN: 0-7914-4139-3. Paper, $30.95

Reviewed by Willow Verkerk

This collection of seventeen essays analyzes the theme of psychology in Nietzsche’s works from the standpoint that Nietzsche himself wished to be considered a psychologist and viewed psychology as a means of exploring the most fundamental problems of the human condition.  Nietzsche’s philosophy, both in style and content, is approached as containing a psychological methodology that aims to existentially enable the reader: firstly, in the deconstruction of one’s values and systems of belief; and secondly, in the fostering of creativity, authenticity and self-overcoming.  Nietzsche’s oeuvre is also viewed as a reflection of his personal therapeutic aims and, in this respect, is considered an anticipatory exercise in the practice of psychoanalytic self-reflection.  The contributors of this collection aptly demonstrate that Nietzsche’s observations on the phenomena of human consciousness were of interest to early depth psychologists and offered them theoretical and practical insight.  Not only were his ideas influential in the evolution of their thought, but his own complex psychological predicament was a matter of great interest.

This volume is rather ambitious in attempting to examine ‘the psychological’ in Nietzsche from so many different perspectives (philosophical, biographical and comparative) and can therefore seem conceptually scattered.  However, the diversity of work to be found here provides good preparatory material on these topics, as well as an interesting read.  Nietzsche often commented on the reflective connections between the author’s psyche or personal life and his philosophical writings.  So it seems fitting that the reader of this volume has the opportunity to study complementary texts that explore the relationship among Nietzsche’s ideas, his psychological dispositions, and his life experiences.  Moreover, this volume takes seriously Nietzsche’s expressed aim to be considered a psychologist and in doing so offers a close study of his insights on human consciousness and of his influence on the development of depth psychology.  The contributors come from varied backgrounds: some are established Nietzsche scholars, while others are working psychoanalysts with a keen interest in Nietzsche’s life and thought.  The interdisciplinary character of this collection thus allows for a useful introduction to Nietzsche’s own psychological theory, his meeting points with psychoanalysis, and provides some instructive, albeit exploratory, analysis of his character and life. 

One of the limitations of this collection is that most of the essays do not directly engage secondary sources; they concentrate primarily on Nietzsche’s texts, or in the case of the comparative work, on Nietzsche and another depth psychologist (or group of them). Other points of concern have to do with language constraints: there is very little mention of Nietzsche’s German texts or sensitivity to translation issues.  The editors of this collection seem to err on the side of inclusiveness in allowing multiple, often incompatible, readings of Nietzsche and, in particular instances, using his work as a toolbox to promote the ideas of the authors rather than offering close readings of Nietzsche’s texts.  To put it crudely, creativity wins out over good scholarships at times, which can make the texts rather entertaining but not necessarily hermeneutically sensitive readings on the psychological in Nietzsche. However, many of the comparative and biographical essays do give well documented and researched readings on the lives of Nietzsche, Freud and other thinkers associated with them. 

In his introductory essay, Jacob Golomb points out that psychology is an integral part of Nietzsche’s philosophy and states that the need for further examination of this is the concern of the essays in Part 1, “Psychology in Nietzsche.”  Both the opening and closing essays look to more general projects.  In the former, James Cadello examines Nietzsche’s comments in BGE characterizing psychology as the “great hunt” and as a development of the will to power.  Cadello argues that Nietzsche has no positive constructive psychological method, but is solely attempting to undermine the traditional psychological tendency to work with dualistic systems of truth.  In the closing piece, Robert Solomon contends that Nietzsche’s analysis of the negative passions of ressentiment and pity, as well as his presentations of amor fati and will to power, reinstate the worth of emotional life.

In Chapter 2, Daniel Chapelle proposes that the enactment of the repetition compulsion during transference activates Nietzsche’s concept of eternal recurrence.  In a sweeping claim, he concludes that both eternal recurrence and the psychological analysis of the repetition compulsion in transference take a profoundly affirmative and therapeutic stance towards existence that transgresses the Judeo-Christian dualistic system of value and replaces it with a new archetypal ontology and cosmology.

In “The Birth of the Soul: Toward a Psychology of Decadence,” Daniel Conway explains Nietzsche’s theory of decadence by way of an analysis of what he considers to be Nietzsche’s “depth-psychological model of the soul” found in his post-Zarathustra work.  He contends that in Nietzsche’s later work decadence is diagnosed as arising from the ill-functioning instinctual systems of the soul which are unable to organize their drives and impulses.  He concludes that Nietzsche provides no therapies to heal or fix decadent souls.  Instead, those with incompetent instinctual systems must allow the destructive powers of their drives and impulses to burn themselves out.

Rochelle Millen, in Chapter 4, examines issues of misogyny and chauvinism by discussing Nietzsche’s personal life as well as the evolution of his writings on women and woman as such.  In an effort to be charitable to Nietzsche, she proposes that there is a significant difference between the remarks in his writings before and after Z.  According to Millen, Nietzsche’s writings in the pre-Z period more accurately reflect his views on women. 

In the next chapter, Weaver Santaniello examines what she calls “Nietzsche’s Psychogenealogy of Religion and Racism” in Genealogy of Morals.  She argues that by exposing the phenomena of metaphysical deceit in our Judeo-Christian heritage, Nietzsche demonstrates how the Christian religion and its virtues fostered racism in nineteenth-century Germany.  Accordingly, Santaniello proposes the radical claim that Nietzsche’s psychogenealogy of religion in GM traces the psychological origins of anti-Semitism.

In Chapter 6, Ofelia Schutte argues that Nietzsche’s re-conceptualization of time as joyful and creative willing offers up a new narrative on both psychological and moral levels which can in turn provide a remedy for decadence and nihilism.

The essays of Part 2, “Nietzsche and Psychology,” concentrate mostly on a comparative analysis among Nietzsche and one or another other depth psychologist.  A number of the authors also examine the influence of Nietzsche’s psychological observations on psychoanalysis more generally.  In Chapter 8, Robert Holub contends that although Rée had a significant and largely overlooked influence on Nietzsche’s early work on psychology, it was only Nietzsche’s break from Rée and his subsequent attempts to intellectually distance himself from Rée that led to his most significant contributions to psychoanalysis.

In the next chapter, Eric Blondel argues that a fascination with tragedy founded many of Nietzsche’s and Freud’s observations about human nature: much of ourselves is unknown to us and it is this unknown unconscious part that drives us and makes us victim to these drives.  Blondel proposes that Nietzsche and Freud aimed to act as physicians for the tragic predicament of humankind through the use of language, what Freud called a “talking cure.”

Ronald Lehrer authors two articles in this collection, Chapter 10, “Freud and Nietzsche, 1892-1895,” and Chapter 12, “Adler and Nietzsche.”  In the first piece, he examines the influence of Nietzsche’s thought on Freud by looking to their common intellectual influences, shared social networks, and the parallels between their writings during this time.  Although the extent of influence of Nietzsche’s work on Freud cannot be conclusively determined, Lehrer argues persuasively that the common threads and interests of the two thinkers are worth serious consideration.  In his second piece, Lehrer discusses the intellectual relationship among Adler, Freud, and Nietzsche as well as the early meetings of depth psychologists of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society and the presence of Nietzsche’s ideas in this group. He focuses on the connections between Adler and Nietzsche, not only in regard to their psychological observations on the topics of aggression and the will to power, but also in regard to the people who shared a place in both of their lives.

Graham Parkes’ essay on Nietzsche and Jung offers a detailed investigation of Nietzsche’s influence on Jung, as well as a critical examination of Jung’s seminars on Zarathustra.  Parkes argues that Jung’s dismissive approach to reading Nietzsche failed to recognize the sense in which Nietzsche anticipated many of his own thoughts.

In the last chapter of the second part, Claude Barbre observes the spiritual friendship that Otto Rank developed with Nietzsche through studying his writing.  Barbre claims Nietzsche and Freud as Rank’s most significant mentors and argues that Nietzsche’s ideas informed Rank’s personal philosophical approach to the world early on and later in his work on the creative will and individuality.

In Part 3, “The Psychology of Nietzsche and His Readers (Psychobiography),” the contributors take part in a number of loosely connected projects which deal with the psychological predicament of Nietzsche himself and his relationships with his readers.  In Chapter 14, Claudia Crawford contends that Nietzsche was not suffering from megalomania or the approach of madness during the later quarter of 1888, but was instead making an attempt to instigate the transvaluation of all values through his unique styles of hyperbole, dithyramb, prophecy, legislation and agon.

Deborah Hayden, in “Nietzsche’s Secrets,” examines varied accounts of Nietzsche’s controversial life story, exposing a number of contradictory observations that have been made by different biographers.  She explains that it is very difficult to come to conclusive facts about a number of questions pertaining to Nietzsche, such as his romantic inclinations towards Salomé, and cleverly suggests that in this respect his biographies most accurately exemplify his theory of perspectivism.

In the next piece, George Moraitis considers challenges that readers face in their attempts to understand Nietzsche’s writings.  He proposes that readers are met with their own “will to ignorance,” which attempts to protect their familiar belief systems, and their own “will to knowledge,” the drive towards novelty and transformation.  In reading Nietzsche, readers are forced to choose one.  Moraitis suggests that the greatest limitation of contemporary readers (an expression of their “will to ignorance”) is their need to make Nietzsche’s work into a cohesive and reconcilable oeuvre.

Lastly, Carl Pletsch closes the collection with his chapter entitled, “Nietzsche’s Striving,” in which he describes Nietzsche’s personal project of self-overcoming as a self-impelling enactment of genius.  He argues that Nietzsche strived to become a genius from the age of fourteen and drew upon the cultural significance of this concept in order to distance himself from his conservative family background and create himself through intense and ambitious discipline.

In summary, this collection is important to consider because its diversity allows for a strong reference point on the psychological in Nietzsche. Although the contributors are often limited by their lack of engagement with the secondary literature, it remains useful and interesting for its informative studies on the conceptual and personal relationships between Nietzsche and early depth psychology.