It had been a while since I’d read anything by Nietzsche, but I revisited him this week and did not have the reaction I’d expected. I know I’ve read Twilight of the Idols before, but I couldn’t remember much about it, although I do remember enjoying On the Genealogy of Morality.
I thought I’d enjoy re-reading him. I didn’t. While he’s very good at pithy aphorisms, there’s a sense of superiority that never used to bother me but now really does. He is so very sexist; more than just “Well he lived in sexist times,” but in a way that reads as degrading.
Nietzsche seems to hate everybody, and has lots of reasons why he’s better than them. He hates Christianity but also other religions; hates all his fellow philosophers; believes himself to be way ahead of his time; and generally rails against… well, everything.
There is no doubt that Nietzsche was an intelligent guy, and in some ways he really was ahead of his time. But in Twilight of the Idols in particular, what he says is tinged with such scathing disdain for everyone who isn’t him that it made me want to stop reading.
So why the difference? Why did I like him so much less than when I read him before? A couple of things, I think:
1) I read Twilight of the Idols just after reading Works of Love by Søren Kierkegaard. Kierkegaard is my favourite philosopher (my favourite person who has ever lived, in fact), so I’m biased, but Works of Love is such a beautiful book, filled with hope in the darkest of times.
Twilight of the Idols looks around at everything that’s going on and shits on it. Kierkegaard, too, disliked vacuity and had problems with the Christianity of his day; but the way he criticises things feels like he’s trying to make them better. Nietzsche just hates everyone.
(I appreciate that it is, in fact, much more complicated than that; and that Twilight of the Idols perhaps isn’t Nietzsche at his most perspicacious. But he just seems so full of vitriol that it’s hard to get to the point of what he’s saying.)
2) Nietzsche reminds me of an ex. I think it’s important to notice when our personal lives and views are affecting our reading of things, and this has happened to me with Nietzsche. I hadn’t read him since I was with said ex, and I imagine that’s had an effect on my view of him.
My ex loved Nietzsche the way I love Kierkegaard. This made for some interesting philosophical discussions on our dates. But I hadn’t realised how much my ex’s voice sounded like Nietzsche’s voice, and reading Twilight of the Idols felt uncomfortable and weird.
However, like I mentioned earlier, Nietzsche was very good at pithy sayings, and there were some I enjoyed in Twilight of the Idols:
“If we possess the why of life we can put up with almost any how.”
“One must need strength, otherwise one will never have it.”
And while I disliked the level of viciousness with which Nietzsche attacked Christianity, this line did make me smile:
“the two great European vices, alcohol and Christianity.”
(I wonder what he’d say they are today? Still alcohol, I think. But what else?)
And there were some excellent words in the book:
I’d like to re-read Nietzsche’s Genealogy at some point and see if it brings up the same problems for me. I remember actively enjoying that one the first time I read it. In the meantime, I’m moving on to Heidegger, because he had no hateful characteristics at all… 🙄*
*In case you’re unaware, (a) this is sarcasm because (b) Heidegger was a raging Nazi.