Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900)

  • Hans Reiss


In the past hundred years no other writer’s impact on German literature has been as great as that of Nietzsche. Why was this so? The reasons are not far to seek. He challenged orthodoxy, and he did so more inventively and impressively than any other nineteenth-century writer of his generation. Other German nineteenth-century thinkers, too, had been radical in their attack on conventional wisdom — Schopenhauer and Marx come first and foremost to mind, but they were of an earlier generation. And the reputation of Freud (who certainly also challenged accepted views) belongs, in the main, to the twentieth century. Also, Nietzsche is far more ingenious and unpredictable in his onslaught; his range of interest seems wider and the style of his challenge, if not bolder and more radical, is more unusual and scintillating. Nietzsche’s work is rich and varied so that writers of very different temperament and outlook could be attracted by it. He seemed profound and original, although it is a matter of controversy whether his thought is as deep and novel as many of the leading interpreters of his work have claimed. But his stylistic brilliance cast its spell — for he is one of the most skilful and impressive German prose writers, capable, at his best, like Plato, of adding a poet’s touch to his prose without making it lose edge. Yet Nietzsche, on closer scrutiny, frequently appears to be a slippery writer.1


Classical Scholarship Expressionist Writer German Literature Greek Tragedy German Culture 
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  1. 2.
    Byron, Letters and Journal ed. R. E. Protheroe, London and New York, 1904,V, p. 191, Diary of 28 and 29 January 1821.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    Cf. Paul Böckmann, ‘Die Bedeutung Nietzsches für die Situation der modernen Literatur’, Dt. Vjs, XXVII, 1953, pp. 77 — 101.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    Cf. Walter H. Sokel, The Writer in Extremis, Expressionism in Twentieth-Century German Literature Stanford, Calif., 1959, a most stimulating study;Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Armin Arnold, Die Literatur des Expressionismus. Sprachliche und thematische Quellen Stuttgart, 1966, both of whom make this point.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Cf. René Wellek, A History of Modern Criticism iv, London, 1966, who makes this observation (p. 356)Google Scholar
  6. 5.
    Elrud Kunne-Ibsch, Die Stellung Nietzsches in der Entwicklung der modernen Literaturwissenschaft Tübingen, 1972, for a full-length study of Nietzsche’s place in German literary history and criticism.Google Scholar
  7. 8.
    Elrud Kunne-Ibsch‘Versuch einer Selbstkritik’ [‘Attempt of Self-Criticism’] second Preface [of 1886] to Geburt der Tragödie; N, I, p. 12.Google Scholar
  8. 9.
    The relationship between Wagner and Nietzsche has been most perceptively analysed by Ernest Newman in his standard work, Richard Wagner. His Life and Work iv, London, 1947, pp. 475–520.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Newman’s account is masterly. Cf. also Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau Wagner und Nietzsche, 1974 ( English trs., New York, 1976 )Google Scholar
  10. 12.
    Cf. his letter to Hans von Bülow, 22 October 1887; N-Ges. Br. III, p. 367. and my ‘Nietzsche’s Geburt der Tragödie’, p. 505ff. For a thorough account of the character of Nietzsche’s music, cf. Martin Vogel, Apollinisch und Dionysisch Geschichte eines genialen Irrtums, Regensburg, 1966, pp. 219–45.Google Scholar
  11. 15.
    Cf. Vogel; also Anni Carlsson, ‘Der Mythos als Maske Friedrich Nietzsches’, Germanisch-Romanische Monatsschrift (XXXIV [N. F. via], 1968Google Scholar
  12. 15.
    Max Baeumer, ‘Das Dionysische-Entwicklung eines literarischen Klischees’, Colloquia Germanisa 1967, pp. 253–62, for a discussion of this question.Google Scholar
  13. 15.
    The suggestive power of Nietzsche’s work is stressed by H. A. Reyburn (in collaboration with H. E. Hinderks and J. G. Taylor), Nietzsche. The Story of a Human Philosopher, London, 1949, p. 119.Google Scholar
  14. 16.
    J. J. Winckelmann, Sämtliche Werke, 1, Osnabrück, 1965 (photographic reprint of the 1825 edition), p. 30;Google Scholar
  15. 16.
    for the importance of this view for German thought cf. E. M. Butler, The Tyranny of Greece over Germany Cambridge, 1935, who also emphasises Nietzsche’s important role in reversing this intellectual trend. Of course, Winckelmann’s view was criticised from the outset — from Christoph Martin Wieland to Heinrich Heine. (I owe this observation to Friedrich Sengle.)Google Scholar
  16. 18.
    Hugh Lloyd Jones, ‘Nietzsche and the Ancient World’, Studies in Nietzsche and the Classical Tradition ed. James C. O’Flaherty et al. Chapel Hill, 1976, pp. 9 f., maintains that this insight, in the long run, made a decisive impact on classical scholarship. His view is in some ways similar to that of Charles Andler in his monumental six-volume work, Nietzsche. Sa Vie et sa Pensée Paris, 1920–31 (cf. particularly vol. III, p. 245–65).Google Scholar
  17. 20.
    For a discussion of this aspect of Nietzsche’s work cf. Maria Bindschedler, Nietzsche und die poetische Lüge 2nd ed., Bâle, 1966, who argues that Nietzsche sought to vindicate poetic fiction in the Geburt der Tragödie (p. 38).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. 22.
    The connection between Euripides and Socrates is of course false as Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff was quick to point out in Zukunftsphilologie 1, Berlin, 1872, pp. 24ff. (reprinted Gründer, pp. 47f.) Cf. also Ernst Howald’s important book on Nietzsche and classical studies (Nietzsche und die klassische Philologie Gotha, 1920, p. 43).Google Scholar
  19. 35.
    Cf. Andler, ni, pp. 77–107; and W. M. Salter, Nietzsche the Thinker London, 1917, pp. 72–7 and pp. 129-147Google Scholar
  20. 35.
    for a succinct account of his political thought. For a concise account of his view of culture which mattered far more to him cf. Frederick J. Copleston, SJ., Friedrich Nietzsche. Philosopher of Culture, London, 1942.Google Scholar
  21. 38.
    The obvious stages are well charted by Helge Hultberg, Die Kunstauffassung.Nietzsches Bergen and Oslo, 1964, p. 23. Hultberg’s account of the later Nietzsche’s conception of art is particularly useful.Google Scholar
  22. 38.
    Cf. also Peter Piltz, Friedrich Nietzsche and his Kunst und Künstlerexistenz bei Nietzsche und Thomas Mann Bonn, 1963, for a most helpful analysis of the same problem.Google Scholar

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© Hans Reiss 1978

Authors and Affiliations

  • Hans Reiss
    • 1
  1. 1.BristolUK

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