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Clark, Maudemarie, and David Dudrick
The Soul of Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil
Cambridge u. a.: Cambridge University Press 2012. XII, 265 S. Kart. US$ 29,99. ISBN 978-0-521-79380-3.
In the last few decades, the view of Nietzsche as a naturalist has come to dominate English-speaking Nietzsche scholarship. There are a variety of naturalistic positions attributed to Nietzsche, though Maudemarie Clark and David Dudrick rightly take Brian Leiter to be paradigmatic and address much of their book to his argument. In doing so they provide one of the first robust criticisms of the naturalist reading of Nietzsche which does not rely on the alternative reading of Nietzsche as a rejecter of truth and meaning. Put differently: it has looked in recent years as though our options in understanding Nietzsche are two. On the one hand we have those who argue for the naturalistic reading, wherein Nietzsche uses arguments to put forward his views as true explanations of the world, not only continuous with the natural sciences but in league with them. On the other hand, there is the reading of Nietzsche as anti-science and anti-truth, a proto-postmodernist who believes »knowledge« and »truth« devolve into perspectives upon perspec-tives. Clark and Dudrick propose another view, one which agrees with the naturalist reading that Nietzsche is committed to truth, but which parts ways with this reading in arguing that for Nietzsche, the natural sciences can only take us so far and should not be the model for philosophy.
Clark and Dudrick arrive at this position through a careful review of what they entitle Beyond Good and Evil One (BGE One), which is not to be confused with either the first book of BGE nor the first »aphorism,« but instead comprises the preface and first book combined. In their reading, following Julian Young (2010), there are two sections or parts of BGE: BGE One, which includes the preface and first book, and the much larger BGE Two, which has all the rest. Thus their work can be read as something of a detailed commen-tary on BGE One, although it is a commentary with a particular position and one which is in constant dialogue with alternative positions. Their position can be summarized as follows: that Nietzsche lends himself to two radically different readings is not an accident. Unlike most of his peers (contemporary and historical), Nietzsche is intentionally keeping two forces in tension: the will to truth and the will to value (perhaps better and somewhat misleadingly known as the will to power). These two wills, together, make up the »magnificent tension of the spirit« that Nietzsche introduces in the preface. Nietzsche: »But the fight against Plato… has created in Europe a magnificent tension of the spirit the like of which had never yet existed on earth: with so tense a bow we can now shoot for the most distant goals« (BGE P). According to our authors, BGE One sets the stage for this tension and offers an alternative theory of the human soul as one of a political hierarchy of wills. The philosopher’s soul is one which maintains the twin tension of the bow, pushing away and pulling against dogmatism (27). Any satisfac-tory philosophy must therefore satisfy both forces.
In the quotation above, my use of ellipses is telling. The part left out includes the oft-quoted remark, »Christianity is Platonism ›for the people‹«. As Clark and Dudrick point out, Nietzsche has a tendency to hide his argument amidst brilliantly written yet somewhat distracting expressions. That is to say, the success of Nietzsche the aphorist misleads us from understanding Nietzsche the philosopher. Thus an argument throughout their book insists that BGE must be read on two levels, the exoteric and the esoteric. The exoteric reading lies on the surface and is more often than not the more natural reading for the uninitiated first-time reader. The esoteric reading demands that one »learn to read Nietzsche well«, something he explicitly asks of his readers. In many cases, they find, the esoteric reading is in direct contrast to the exoteric reading. This move makes it possible for Clark and Dudrick to advance their own reading against those on offer and is an advantage of the book as a whole. It is also likely to be difficult for many readers to accept, or at least the first hurdle to overcome. For instance, in an important chapter dealing with BGE 13, 22, and 36, Clark and Dudrick argue that when Nietzsche famously tells us that life itself is will to power, he does not mean all physical and biological life. Nietzsche: »Physiologists should think twice before positing the drive to self-preservation as the cardinal drive of an organic being. Above all, something living wants to discharge its strength – life itself is will to power […]« (BGE 13). Exoterically one would naturally read this as a claim about all life as such. Or take the even stronger claim later in the book: »The world seen from inside, the world determined and described with respect to its ›intelligible character‹ – would be just this ›will to power‹ and nothing else.« (BGE 36) If the exoteric reading is correct (whether taken metaphysically or as a kind of power biology), Clark and Dudrick’s claim about the book as a whole must be wrong. Yet they conclude that Nietzsche means something strikingly different than the superficial reading. »BGE 13’s purpose is not, on our reading, to establish that all biological life is characterized by will to power; on the contrary it helps show that will to power is what distinguishes specifically human life from biological life more generally«, and »BGE 36’s actual conclusion is a conservative one: far from holding that all reality is characterized by will to power, it actually claims – much to the contrary – that not even all actions are characterized by this will.« (244)
This may seem a dubious conclusion. The esoteric reading could be accused of serving as a device for allowing Clark and Dudrick to put whatever conclusions they wish in Nietzsche’s mouth. Were their argumentation and analysis less careful than it is, I might share this worry. As it is, the book’s argument is extraordinarily well crafted and argued. Anyone engaged in Nietzsche studies at any level should surely read it carefully and seriously. It is a significant addition to the current state of the field and perhaps the single strongest response to the naturalist reading of Nietzsche available today.