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Nietzsche Research Group (Nijmegen) under the direction of Paul van Tongeren, Gerd Schank (†), and Herman Siemens (Eds.). Nietzsche-Wörterbuch, Vol. 1: Abbreviatur-einfach

Berlin-New York: W. de Gruyter, 2004. XXXII, 763 pp. ISBN: 3-11-017186-4

Reviewed by Marco Brusotti

Review translated by Lisa Marie Anderson

While Nietzsche says that "we… are not getting rid of God because we still believe in grammar" (TI "Reason" 5), he also emphasizes repeatedly how much depends, for him, on a new, personal idiom. Hence his claim that with GM, he has "invented a new gesture of language for these things which are new in every respect" (Nietzsche to Carl Spitteler, 10 February 1888), or, in contrast, the somewhat inaccurate self-criticism that he did not yet dare in BT to "allow [himself] a particular language for such particular ideas and ventures" (BT P:6). "The price of being an artist [he writes another time] is that one perceives that which non-artists call 'form' as content, as 'the thing itself'" (KSA 13:11[3]). The preface to the Nietzsche-Wörterbuch, whose first volume is now available, begins with Nietzsche's challenge, "Take your language seriously!", and the authors indeed make the language of the philologist and philosopher a "holy obligation," as Nietzsche calls it. Charged with this responsibility is the Nietzsche Research Group, led by Paul van Tongeren and based in the Faculty of Philosophy at Radboud University Nijmegen, whose many members are listed in the preface (p. IX f). The group represents an international network of Nietzsche researchers, whose conferences and seminars have already stimulated much reflection about Nietzsche's language, even before the appearance of this first volume.

Back when the possibilities of electronic editing could hardly have been imagined, Mazzino Montinari was often asked whether he was planning a subject index for KGW, such as had been included in earlier editions. Users were plagued at that time primarily with simple search problems, which were then better solved by the Nietzsche-CD-ROM in 1995. By the time Wolfgang Müller-Lauter declared, a year before the appearance of the CD-ROM, that a Nietzsche-Dictionary would have to "explain the central philosophical vocabulary" of the philosopher "in a historic and systematic manner," these search problems were no longer in the foreground.[1] Thus, comparatively speaking, expectations and needs have changed gradually over time. A subject index is no longer necessary, and a dictionary must now answer questions for which a digital search alone provides important help but not an answer. This is the task of the new Nietzsche-Wörterbuch. It offers, among other things, an analytically organized overview of the semantic possibilities of each word, a wealth of information from the history of language, literature, and ideas, annotations relating to historical context and the history of Nietzsche reception, and, not least, philosophical interpretations.

The editors estimate Nietzsche's aggregate vocabulary to be in the order of 30,000 words. From a first extensive collection of 12,000 keywords, they gradually chose 2,000 candidates, and arrived finally at about 500 entries to be elucidated in the Nietzsche-Wörterbuch, provisionally in four volumes. The first volume contains 67 of them (from 'Abbreviatur' to 'einfach'). Perhaps inadvertently, the publisher's brochure estimates a dictionary with 300 entries, which could indeed be accommodated in four volumes. But it will likely be difficult to fit 500 there, unless the later volumes are divided into parts.

The dictionary's approach is primarily a semasiological one; the signifiant serves as the entry, and the concept itself is secondary. The dictionary seeks not only to unlock Nietzsche's philosophical terminology but also to convey literary and linguistic insights into Nietzsche's usage, work that goes well beyond the ambit of a pure history of ideas. Rather than simply elucidating his 'basic concepts', the dictionary investigates his language far more extensively. This is a rewarding enterprise when dealing with a philosopher who often prefers a swarm of synonyms and images to a clear-cut, fixed technical term. It demands both philosophical and linguistic competence. The trio of editors consists of two philosophers, Paul van Tongeren and Herman Siemens, and a linguist, Gerd Schank. [2]

The entry words were not chosen according to quantitative criteria; i.e., the frequency of appearance was not the determining factor. The editors cite an array of non-mechanical criteria: the importance of the word (or group of words), the shifts and changes in meaning it undergoes in Nietzsche's work, or his general characteristic and/or willful usage of it. Reception history is also considered, since the dictionary has also set as its goal to dispel those misunderstandings that have been conditioned by the history of Nietzsche's influence, and not least by political events of the last century. Thus the primacy of the semasiological approach is consciously limited. Clearly, the editors were concerned not simply to present the 500 most important concepts of Nietzsche's philosophy, nor simply to chronicle the adventures of the 500 signifiants that lent themselves to the greatest transformations and shifts. The range of onomasiological and semasiological criteria allows in any case for a great deal of leeway in the selection of entry words. (The [preliminary] list of keywords is available for download, along with other material, on the dictionary website:;

The reader may be surprised to find that the editors speak of 500 key entry words as "a small sample." But readers will encounter, upon first opening the volume, many surprising entries, and will soon realize, while perusing the index, that many entries that might be expected are missing. Along with nouns and adjectives, composite expressions also serve as keywords ("abgehellte Luft" is the only example in the first volume, since "amor fati" has not received its own entry), as do, interestingly, prefixes ("anti," "after"). Proper names, on the other hand, are not included. Apollo and Dionysus appear under "dionysisch-apollinisch", but "Ariadne" has no entry (will "Zarathustra" be housed under "Zarathustrisch"?). Probably for similar reasons, "Deutsch" and "Deutschland" are absent (but "arisch" is treated), even though an article on "Europa" is planned for the second volume. Thus the selection of the entry words is peculiar, sometimes idiosyncratic, and not always coherent. But all in all, the reader may expect that important concepts without their own entries will be treated adequately elsewhere. An orientation is offered in the "index of reference words" (p. 758 ff.): here one learns, for example, that the "Ding an sich," which (like "Ding") does not have its own entry, is treated under "dionysisch-apollinisch" (while "amor fati" is treated under "Bejahung"), or that "Böse" has not been forgotten (as it was in the Historisch-Kritisches Wörterbuch, which had to include the concept quite belatedly under "malum"), but will be treated in an article on "gut/böse/schlecht." Moreover, perhaps it is not the most important or most famous words that a dictionary like this can unlock in the most surprising ways. While awaiting with anticipation the "great teachings," which will be addressed in later volumes (such as "übermensch," "Ewige Wiederkunft," and "Wille zur Macht"), one can marvel at the valences and semantic nuances of "Eckensteher," "bieder," "bunt" and "billig", or of "abziehen," "Dummheit," and "Bildungsphilister." It is among the most remarkable achievements of the dictionary that such attention has been brought, off the beaten track, as it were, to heretofore neglected aspects of Nietzsche's thought, and that new themes have been opened up for research.

The articles vary widely in length: "abgeschmackt," for example, receives barely two pages, while "dionysisch-apollinisch" and "Augenblick/Moment" span more than 35 pages each. The articles for "Arbeit," "Bewusstsein," "Bildung," "Christentum," and others are comparable with proper essays. The articles are not designated with authors' names, which is most unusual for a work of this level.

All the entries are strictly organized according to a basic template consisting of the following categories. Category 1 includes word forms, the number of citations or occurrences of the word, their distribution and periods of high frequency in Nietzsche's usage. Category 2 gives a summary overview of the word's meaning. Under Category 3 (in the electronic edition, which is planned) or Category 4 (in the book edition at hand), the full structure of variant meanings is set out together with citations illustrating them (with more extensive citations in the electronic edition, though a sizeable selection appears in the printed version). Category 5 is dedicated to the history of the word and the concept, Category 6 to an interpretation with respect to Nietzsche research. Category 7 furnishes further information and interpretations for the individual citations. Reception is treated under Category 8. Category 9 (which is not mentioned in the preface) provides a bibliography, and Category 10 (mistakenly called Category 9 in the preface) gives cross-references to other dictionary articles. The priority of the semasiological approach, mentioned earlier, applies especially to the first categories, while in the others, the authors rather take the onomasiological approach, as one would expect.

This strict organization constitutes a tight corset, which often forces the authors into repetitions, and makes the composition of the articles extremely work-intensive. Particularly the "Structure of Variant Meanings" (Category 4) is painstakingly constructed and makes abundantly clear why Nietzsche saw modern science enter into such a close relationship with the ascetic ideal. Especially common words with very high frequencies present a substantial challenge here. The entry "Denken," for example, must account for all the sources (5000 in the corpus), in accordance with the demand that this organization present not only the philosophically relevant usages, but also a linguistically oriented overview of all variant meanings. It is unfortunate that the entries "und" and "oder" are not planned, since Nietzsche praises D as "the only book that ends with an 'or'," and laments "the sublime arrogation of the little word 'and'" in the phrase "man and world"; "Schopenhauer and Hartmann" also seemed dubious to him. (The reviewer is emphatically not available to compose such entries!)

With the possibilities of an electronic full-text search at his disposal, today's Nietzsche researcher must avoid the temptation to limit himself to that part of the corpus that is electronically searchable. The somewhat aged CD-ROM, which is currently available does not, strictly speaking, even contain the full KSA, since the numerous posthumous notes that are published in the commentary volume (KSA 14) were not included. Most importantly, the CD-ROM contains neither Nietzsche's correspondence nor the juvenilia, philologica, and lecture manuscripts published in KGW. The same is true of the diplomatic versions of a few of Nietzsche's late manuscripts, which appeared for the first time in KGW IX (the fact that this is only a handful of notebooks points simply to the problem of material that has been edited either not at all or else only insufficiently). Moreover, a new electronic edition would have to eliminate the scanning errors of the current one (a delightful example: "Virus" appears in place of "Virtus" (KSA 9,518, 11[194]); apparently computers too have their obsessions), and would have to correct as well, using the KGW Nachbericht volumes, which have since appeared, the many false decipherments in the underlying KSA. The material basis for the Nietzsche-Wörterbuch is, for the most part, the corpus made available on the CD-ROM. Everything else is incorporated rather more occasionally than systematically. For example, in the essay about "arisch-semitisch", the lecture manuscript The Religious Worship of the Greeks, where the topic is discussed most extensively with reference to the relevant literature, is not included. Thus we hope that the later volumes of the dictionary will evaluate much more decisively the material not included on the CD-ROM.

The dictionary is well aware that this field of research can, in principle, never be decisively completed. It makes no claim to completeness, be it in its system of determining entries, or in the preparation of the individual entries. So that which is submitted here could easily be integrated into the electronic version that is planned, by way of the later volumes. And it is not only in this way that the Nietzsche-Wörterbuch is by nature open-ended. The first volume already contains an express invitation to a discussion of Nietzsche's linguistic usage. The authors have devoted their attention to those semantic processes in particular in which word meanings are varied and pluralized, to modifications in meaning (e.g. through a shifting of the reference-object), and more generally to the complex interplay between so-called metaphorical and literal meanings. Inasmuch as Nietzsche's tweaking of an individual word is singled out again and again, the dictionary seeks to initiate a more systematic means of access to Nietzsche's work on his own language. It also raises the issue of Nietzsche's conscious, specific style, and the vocabulary of each of his writings. Most of all, it invites the reader to explore more carefully the thoroughly peculiar vocabulary of "Zarathustra" in all its singularity (see p. XIX, Point 1). Even against the backdrop of new research foci (for example, the metaphorical dictionary planned as a follow-up project to the standard work for Begriffsgeschichte [Historisches Wörterbuch der Philosophie]), interest in Nietzsche's handling of images and metaphors should remain strong among philosophers and historians of philosophy, and it is not only in this respect that the Nietzsche-Wörterbuch represents an important resource.[3]

The Nietzsche-Wörterbuch, whose first volume was supported by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NOW), is certainly the most internationally distinguished project among the Nietzsche research projects being conducted at universities there. We can look forward to the continuation of the project, which will bring into focus aspects of Nietzsche's thought that have not yet been fully considered. The first volume certainly lives up to its claim to stimulate discussion on these aspects, and about Nietzsche's language generally.

Università degli Studi di Lecce/Technische Universität Berlin

1.Wolfgang Müller-Lauter, "Zwischenbilanz. Zur Weiterführung der von Montinari mitbegründeten Nietzsche-Edition nach 1986", in Nietzsche-Studien 23 (1994), 307-316.
2.It is my sad duty to report the death of Gerd Schank on November 12th, 2007, after this review was written. He was known by many of us and will be missed by us all, not just the Nietzsche Research Group.
3.Historisches Wörterbuch der Philosophie, ed. J. Ritter, K. Gründer and G. Gabriel, 13 Bde., (Basel: Schwabe, 1971-2007).