Note on the Plan of Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil

"Note on the Plan of Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil," Interpretation, Vol. 3, No. 2-3 (Winter 1973).  Reprinted in Studies in Platonic Political Philosophy.


Beyond Good and Evil always seemed to me to be the most beautiful of Nietzsche’s books. This impression could be thought to be contradicted by his judgement, for he was inclined to believe that his Zarathustra is the most profound book that exists in German as well as the most perfect in regard to language. But “most beautiful” is not the same as “most profound” and even as “most perfect in regard to language.” To illustrate this partly by an example which is perhaps not too far-fetched, there seems to be general agreement to the effect that Plato’s Republic, his Phaedrus and his Banquet are his most beautiful writings without their being necessarily his most profound writings. Yet Plato makes no distinction among his writings in regard to profundity or beauty or perfection in regard to language; he is not concerned with Plato-with his “ipsissimosity”-and hence with Plato’s writings, but points away from himself whereas Nietzsche points most emphatically to himself, to “Mr. Nietzsche.” Now Nietzsche “personally” preferred, not Beyond Good and Evil but his Dawn of Morning and his Gay Science to all his other books precisely because these two books are his most personal” books (letter to Karl Knortz of June 21, 1888). As the very term personal,” ultimately derivative from the Greek word for “face” indicates, being “personal” has nothing to do with being “profound” or with being “perfect in regard to language.”

What is dimly perceived and inadequately expressed through our judgement on Beyond Good and Evil, is stated clearly by Nietzsche in his account of that book which he has given in Ecce Homo: Beyond Good and Evil is the very opposite of the “inspired” and “dithyrambic” Zarathustra in as much as  Zarathustra is most far-sighted, whereas in Beyond Good and Evil the eye is compelled to grasp clearly the nearest, the timely (the present), the around us. This change of concern required in every respect, “above all also in the form,” the same arbitrary turning away from the instincts out of which a Zarathustra had become possible: the graceful subtlety as regards form, as regards intention, as regards the art of silence are in the foreground in Beyond Good and Evil which amounts to saying that these qualities are not in the foreground in the Zarathustra, to say nothing of Nietzsche’s other books.

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