Why is Nietzsche considered a great philosopher
A sea of contradictions
F&L: Nietzsche was often misused for various ideologies, among other things by the National Socialists for their idea of the "superman". How could this happen?
Elmar Schenkel: Anyone who highlights only one side of Nietzsche in order to create arguments is abusing him. Most of them do, I sure do too sometimes. But the Nazis in a special way. Nietzsche's sister, Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche, an unparalleled anti-Semite and nationalist, prepared her brother for fascism when she published his writings. She falsified passages and already misused him for propaganda purposes in the First World War - him who hated nationalism and racism, who was an enemy of anti-Semitism. On the other hand, he also had his attacks on the weak and harbored national prejudices, for example against the British. One could apply the iceberg theory to him: the upper part of his thinking was ingenious, inspiring, prophetic. The lower part (how many percent I do not want to calculate) was arrested in its time - misogynist, anti-democratic, man's alliance, groaning 19th century.
"The upper part of his thinking was prophetic, the lower part of his time arrested."
F&L: Nietzsche was also shaped by the so-called "German" characteristics such as melancholy, heaviness of thoughts, the pathetic and profundity. To what extent does that play a role in his thinking?
Elmar Schenkel: For a long time Nietzsche was closely associated with Richard Wagner and his wife, whose music embodies German heaviness and pathos par excellence. The confrontation with him and the idea of "heavy blood" made Nietzsche prefer the French composers, the comparatively lighter music and the more operetta-like, the Italian. He also had to climb out of his own "shell". You also have to imagine which family Nietzsche was born into: eleven generations before him there were pastors and he grew up alone among pious women. In his writings he complains about the German heaviness, the beer bliss and so on. And yet she is arrested. Iceberg theory here too.
F&L: What role does insanity play in Nietzsche?
Elmar Schenkel: The madness was of course already on the march before his hospital stay, in the last five years before the outbreak in Turin. One can already observe a considerable loss of social relationships and the emergence of bad fantasies. There is now a dispute about how far this has influenced his philosophical thinking. In his writings he attacks madness as a romantic cult of genius, on the other hand he sees the lightning-like attacks of madness as a form of knowledge. Here too: self-contradictory.
F&L: Nietzsche was also particularly close to psychology ...
Elmar Schenkel: Yes, the unconscious played a major role for him, and he is back in the tradition of the romantics. It is also interesting that Sigmund Freud avoided dealing with Nietzsche because there was a lot of overlap there. Schopenhauer, his early idol, was a psychologist from the very beginning. In Freud, as in Nietzsche, the ego is a composite structure, dynamic, unstable, divided. Guided by drives, instincts, amoral survival patterns. Freud and Nietzsche examined the ego as an illusion. Incidentally, Nietzsche is a very psychological thinker, very different from Marx. The individual is in the foreground. Basically, Marx and Nietzsche complement each other perfectly, regardless of their differences.
"Precisely because Nietzsche is so controversial, we have to deal with him. We also have to face our own prejudices."
F&L: How has interest in Nietzsche changed in Germany in recent years?
Elmar Schenkel: If you look at East Germany, you have to say that there is a fundamental interest in Nietzsche, since he was persona non grata during the GDR era. It was forbidden and taboo. So there is a lot of catching up to do. Our letters to Nietzsche also provide information about this, written by people who grew up in the GDR. It was important to me that these perspectives are shown. There are a few people across Germany who are prominently involved with Nietzsche, such as Peter Sloterdijk and Rüdiger Safranski, who wrote a biography of Nietzsche. Andreas Urs Sommer, Ralf Eichberg and quite a few younger researchers like Corinna Schubert should be mentioned. In Germany, however, people are generally very cautious because the National Socialists misused it for their own purposes. Joschka Fischer, who has probably been to Röcken twice, wrote in the guest book when visiting the memorial that he still had doubts. And he's right there. The problem with dealing with Nietzsche at the university is that there is now a general mood that regards dealing with him as politically right-wing. This is actually prehistoric behavior: touch taboos. Precisely because Nietzsche is so controversial and at the same time extremely stimulating, we have to deal with him. We also have to face our own prejudices. He can be very helpful for this. Because his way of thinking is anti-ideological to the point of madness, because he exposes prejudices everywhere in his thinking. Which doesn't mean that he doesn't have one himself.
F&L: Is that why the scientific study of Nietzsche is topical and important?
Elmar Schenkel: The scientific engagement with Nietzsche has many fruitful sides. Firstly, like no other, he embodies the thinking of his time and beyond, in all contradictions. Second, with his résumé he stands for a whole epoch of cultural history: scholar, composer, antichrist, poet, thinker, genius, the relationship with Richard Wagner, madness, a challenge for the arts and philosophy, for life plans. Thirdly, the reception of Nietzsche in the 20th century is a reflection of ideological struggles: It begins with the Nietzsche cult around 1900, leads to American Superman, to the Nazis, to taboos in the East, to post-structuralism. Worldwide - as our letters show - he is probably the most popular philosopher of all. We learn something about the respective cultures in the way Nietzsche processes them. Anyone who deals scientifically with Nietzsche will learn and recognize a lot about themselves and their own time.
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