Saturday, July 14, 2012
A New Translation of Nietzsche's Zarathustra
[ Originally written on Mar 24, 2007]
It was a pleasant surprise, upon recently visiting the local Barnes & Noble store, to discover, alongside the stacks of "Barnes & Noble Classics" by such expected authors as Herman Melville, J. M. Barrie, Jane Austen, and others, a new edition and translation of Nietzsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra. This welcome addition to the "Barnes & Noble Classics" series is introduced by Kathleen Higgins and Robert Solomon, both of whom are professors of philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin, and is translated by Clancy Martin. (Although Martin obviously did most of the heavy work in producing this edition, there is no data regarding him on the cover or elsewhere.) The notes to Zarathustra, contributed by all three, run to a scant 13 pages. But, then, whenever have we seen an adequately annotated edition of this complex work?
The introduction by Higgins and Solomon is worth careful reading because they, judging by the quantity of their bibliographic output, are the leaders in Nietzsche studies in the U.S.A. They believe that the concept of the Uebermensch does not have the significance in Nietzsche's work that other scholars have attributed to it. The concept of eternal recurrence, Nietzsche's answer to the problem of nihilism, is, they believe, much more important. Eternal recurrence forces humans to affirm and value life in itself, whatever it may be. As an answer to nihilism it has long seemed to me to be as mystical as Albert Schweitzer's guiding principle of reverence for life. If the individual's life recurs precisely in every detail again and again an infinite number of times throughout eternity, what is the meaning of that for humans who can know only this existence? (Eternal recurrence has always seemed to me to be something comparable in its impact to the doctrine of reincarnation, according to which I have been another person in another existence only I will never know who that other person was.)
Clancy Martin contributes a note on his translation. He wisely decides to render Uebermensch as Uebermensch, all other translations having promoted one or another misunderstanding of the concept. Martin cites the translation by Thomas Common, the earliest, appearing in 1892, and the translation by Walter Kaufmann as models for his work. He believes that Kaufmann yielded to the temptation to be an editor of Nietzsche as well as a translator, primarily because he was particularly concerned, working around 1950, to put distance between the image of Nietzsche and the Nazis. Kaufmann introduces terms into his translation that cannot be justified, Martin believes. (Clancy Martin confirms what I had always suspected about the Kaufmann translations.)
Nietzsche could not be completely useful to the Nazis, especially without the skillful editing inflicted upon his works by his sister, because, I believe, save for the area of religion, he was too conservative for them. In The Genealogy of Morals Nietzsche clearly rejects the anti-Semitic movement, then arising in Germany, for the same reason that he rejects socialism and anarchism. The anti-Semites, he argues, express envy and resentment, the driving forces behind "slave morality," while their followings are drawn from the rabble, the lower classes. Nietzsche rightly recognizes the anti-Semitism of his age as a socialist movement. (When I read Nietzsche's denunciation of the anti-Semites, I think of a not altogether unparallel situation in the U.S.A. in which upper class whites rejected phenomena such as the George Wallace candidacy and the Ku Klux Klan because they saw in such movements a menacing uprising on the part of the lower class of whites.)
In other words, Nietzsche rejected anti-Semitism because of who the anti-Semites were. His attitude toward the Jews themselves seemed to be often ambivalent. This conclusion is sustained by the mass of material assembled by Siegfried Mandel in his book Nietzsche & the Jews: Exaltation and Denigration (1998). Especially after his collapse in 1889, which began his ascent to international fame, many of the anti-Semites, socialists, and anarchists attempted to claim Nietzsche as one of their own. In our own century, on the left, Herbert Marcuse attempted to claim Nietzsche for the left, but the Stalinist Georg Lukacs, another figure who had much prominence in American academic circles, insisted that Nietzsche was the ideological forerunner of fascism. Down to this day, there are those on the left who would claim Nietzsche. After all, perhaps they reason, he could never have been a member of the Christian Right.