Nietzsche from Rome, Cambridge, and Palo Alto

Dedicated to John Black Morgan IV

In late-2006, while living amongst the fascists and Ultras of Rome, Italy, I made the most momentous decision of my life: to read the entire body of Friedrich Nietzsche’s work. I was prompted to do so by my main informant, a Roman fascist Ultra coincidently named Federico. His concern was only that I be able to properly understand Rome and Romans like him. What happened was close to the converse: I feel it was only because of Rome (and Romans like Federico) that I was able to properly understand Nietzsche. If I had been anywhere but Rome, this would be so vulgarly materialistic that I would neither admit it to myself nor use it to belittle Nietzsche’s thought. Because regardless of Nietzsche’s hatred of Rome – its Baroque architecture and subjugation by the Popes, in particular – the city has a uniquely violent past that daily speaks to the glory, heroism, harshness, and nobility of spirit (to use Evola’s words) that he so adored in the Ancients.

And beyond Rome: its almost science fiction that I was able to walk in paths and places tread by Nietzsche as he wrote some of his most inspired words. Living and working in America, I suppose I have no choice but to address the contextual impact on what I now write. I’d love to argue with an American who had never been to Greece about the Greek fascination with perfection, form and content, and how these relate to beauty and the beautiful. He simply would have no frame of reference from which to argue. By contrast, anyone who has been to Greece and seen what the Greeks saw every morning, afternoon, evening, and night, would simply acknowledge the attainability of perfection as beauty and then be off to the much more rewarding task of basking in such beauty. Likewise, to walk from Santa Margherita Ligure to Portofino, as did Nietzsche each morning during the writing of Zarathustra I, is to experience such beauty – such dangerous beauty to be beheld from the vantage point of either gods or heroes – that the mind cannot help but flow forth honeyed emotions, themselves dripping with a superabundance of joy.

Certainly, my reading of Nietzsche is heavy on great politics, the Greeks and Romans as ideal human types/forms of life, and the relationship between truth and morality. But, I sincerely feel that my reading of Nietzsche is honest and focuses on the most noble and radical aspects of his thought. The post-Heideggerian fascination with whether or not Nietzsche was a metaphysical thinker is of no real concern to me. Instead, I suppose I share with Deleuze a “pure need” for a “useful” Nietzsche – and that use is the very central core of every word he wrote: the recognition, and destruction, of decadence in all of its manifestations.

To have studied Nietzsche in the very shadow of the Ancients is the defining intellectual, physical, and cultural element of my life. All else is built on that foundation. It is the axis around which everything turns. My son would not exist without having done so. Even my wife was transformed by the experience – even if hers was hearing me read page after page, day after day, with moments of awe, adulation, explanation, and realization.

I had the perfect place and I had the time. And it was not just the ancient, but contemporary Romans as well, that made the world Nietzschean. By that I mean – and it cannot be overstated – that the culture in which I lived was neither contradicted nor indicted by Nietzsche’s ideals. If my son grows up in Rome and takes to heart all that I teach him, the world will make sense. If he grows up in America, Nietzsche will get him into fights, into trouble, and into the unemployment line. America will not only tell him that his father is crazy but it will probably do worse. It will try, anyway.

Even with place and time, the choice to study Nietzsche must be made with a proper understanding of the politics of Nietzsche scholarship. Which translations can be trusted to convey what Nietzsche said about hierarchy, politics, greatness, and the destructive history of the Jewish people? Which translations turn Nietzsche into a feminist democrat? Who can one trust? Based on brief Internet research, I chose Cambridge University Press, who publishes Nietzsche in its History of Philosophy series. It was another momentous decision, for, little did I know that Cambridge publishes OUR Nietzsche: the Nietzsche of great politics; aristocracy; and distance from egalitarianism, democracy, Christian morality and ethics. I did not understand, then, how far removed is this Nietzsche from the American Nietzsche created (literally) by Walter Kauffman.

Now, however, I face another potentially momentous decision in my Nietzschean life: I have purchased the first five volumes of the Complete Works of Friedrich Nietzsche being published by Stanford University Press. I decided to study these volumes because they are the official (and only) English language versions of the Colli and Montinari edited Critical Edition of Nietzsche’s works and notes. These complete works will be fulfilled in 20 volumes, and Stanford promises a compendium of unpublished notes, notebooks, and incomplete drafts. It was just too tempting to deny, even if my intellectual life might become little more than reading these new books.

In future essays, I will do my best to explain any inconsistencies between the Stanford and Cambridge editions with which I am so familiar. Being insufficient in German to read Nietzsche as he intended, I will focus not so much on consistencies between that language and English, but instead on the Nietzsche being created. I say this because I already have reason to believe that the Colli-Montinari project is potentially problematic. Gianni Vattimo’s essay “The Italian Nietzsche” reviews the Italian contribution to the study of Nietzsche, beyond the Colli and Montinari project (Dialogue with Nietzsche, 190-195). That project, however, is central to Nietzsche’s influence in Italy, with Colli’s desire to remove Nietzsche from the influence of Heidegger, and Montinari’s fascination with philology, shaping two of the three poles (along with Heidegger) of Italian Nietzsche studies. Interestingly, in another essay on Heidegger and Nietzsche, Vattimo mentions another pole that – after anti-Heidegger, philology, and metaphsyics – focuses on will to power as the metaphysical reality on which a morality of force, struggle, and conflict plays itself out. He calls this the fascist reading of Nietzsche, and it is perhaps my own.

After describing how the two Italians got involved in the project, Vattimo explains that the Italian right largely rejects their editions. This is because Colli and Montinari were communists assumed to be committed to the denazification of Nietzsche’s work and legacy. That is to say, they had a political agenda that promoted the softer – more easily digestible for liberal Christian democrats – Nietzsche that came to be identified as the “French/American postmodern Nietzsche” (see Fredrick Appel’s Nietzsche Contra Democracy) on display in the works of Foucault, Klossowski, and Maudemarie Clark. Vattimo’s reasons for suspicion are legitimate, for politics must play a role in publishing, especially someone who is as anti-liberal as Nietzsche; and because politics is everything in Italy.

What is problematic is only the idea that the Colli-Montinari editions go too far in scrubbing our Nietzsche clean of the one created by his sister. This is the problem with Walter Kauffman’s Nietzsche: anything that could possibly be interpreted as “fascist” in Nietzsche’s thought is explained as psychological, internal, or consequence of madness. It is a trick that beguiles by simplicity. In the case of the French, however, what one finds in the void created by fear of the Counter-Enlightenment is the Heideggerian hocus-pocus systematizing of Nietzsche as a great metaphysician. In either case, Nietzsche largely disappears under an avalanche of postmodern concerns with becoming, deconstruction, and empty signifiers.

I have a major reason to trust in the purity of the tempest that I am about to receive from Stanford University Press, however. The Italian editions of Nietzsche’s work that I use, published by Adelphi, are based on Colli-Montinari, and I have yet to find a politically-based omission or contextualization, or translation that did not correspond perfectly with both my Cambridge readings and understanding of Italian. Thus, I am far less anxious than Vattimo would have me be. And, since I largely ignore introductions, afterwords, and overly explanatory notes, I really have little to fear. So, that being said, I’ll be writing occasional notes on, and reviews of, the Complete Works of Friedrich Nietzsche, always from the perspective of the few aristocratic radicals of the New Right.

Note: Any students looking for research subjects that allow a bit of freedom to “speak freely,” consider the politics of Nietzsche Studies. The best place to start such a discussion, Nietzsche aside, is the aforementioned Nietzsche Contra Democracy by Fredrick Appel (Cornell University Press, 1999).

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