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Nietzsche: A Philosophical Biographyby Rudiger Safranski
Synopses & Reviews
No other modern philosopher has proved as influential as Nietzsche and none as consistently misunderstood. This groundbreaking new biography reveals the complexities of one of the world's most enigmatic philosophers.
In his blistering prose, Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) uprooted the traditional study of philosophy as firmly grounded in rationality and truth and lay the foundations for the radicalism of twentieth-century Western thought, as it would emerge after his death. Contemporary thinkers have reinterpreted, revised, and repeated Nietzsche's ideas, but no one has transcended them, and today, no student of philosophy can afford to ignore the life and work of this towering figure. In his definitive work, acclaimed biographer Rüdiger Safranski proves his ability to integrate philosophical analysis with biographical detail and to portray this difficult, often contradictory man with an objective, even-handed grace.
Following Nietzsche's own dictum that "life is a testing ground for thought," Safranski, the author of biographies of Heidegger and Schopenhauer, offers a critical reappraisal of Nietzsche's philosophy by examining the intersection of his life and work, innovatively using biographical details to represent the larger vision of Nietzsche's philosophy. In his portrayal, Safranski attempts what Nietzsche considered the most important of human tasks: to be "an adventurer, a circumnavigator of the inner world called human." Safranski knowingly guides us through the tepid philosophical climate of nineteenth-century Germany, where, in the considerable wake of Kant and Hegel, Nietzsche struggled to break away from the oppressive burdens of the past, whose dubious philosophical foundations in rationality, objective truth, and traditional morality suffocated Nietzsche's Dionysian sensibility.
Following Nietzsche from the beginning of his burgeoning career as a talented young philologist to his violent break with academic tradition with the publication of The Birth of Tragedy, Safranski traces the origins and growth of Nietzsche's ideas. He details the young thinker's boyhood obsession with music and writing and his friendship, and eventual break, with Richard Wagner, whose music ignited a devotion to aesthetics Nietzsche would resist, but never completely abandon, for the rest of his life. With compassion and expertise, Safranski tackles the considerable contradictions and controversies of Nietzsche's later life and work: his alternating devotions to art and science, excess and sacrifice; his struggles with intimacy and sexuality; his ultimately tragic descent into madness; and his posthumous reception by the next generation of European philosophers, including his dubious association with German nationalism.
Offering trenchant analysis of Nietzsche's most difficult texts, The Birth of Tragedy, Human, All Too Human, and Beyond Good and Evil among others, Safranski keeps the total vision of Nietzsche's thought in mind, quoting letters, diaries, journals, and fragmented writings — each of which reveals a unique vision of this multifaceted figure.
Using Nietzsche's own formulations — about the intersection of life and philosophy, about the necessity for rigorous self-criticism, and, finally, about the pervasiveness of the unknowable — Safranski conjures the mind of a philosopher who had the courage to "leave the shore and venture into the open sea."
"A graceful and elegant book...a successful reappraisal of Nietzsche....Safranski is...one of the most brilliant and eloquent essayists." Berliner Zeitung
In the first major biography in decades, Safranski re-creates the anguished life of Nietzsche while simultaneously assessing the philosophical implications of his morality, religion, and art.
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