Nietzsche's Words to Readers

Studying Nietzsche is no simple task, a fact that Nietzsche himself recognized. He makes these and other warnings to his readers, which we authors of the hypertext pass on to you as a student of Nietzsche.

An aphorism, properly stamped and molded, has not been "deciphered" when it has simply been read; rather, one has then to begin its exegesis, for which is required an art of exegesis.... To be sure, one thing is necessary above all if one is to practice reading as an art in this way, something that has been unlearned most thoroughly nowadays -- and therefore it will be some time before my writings are "readable" -- something for which one has almost to be a cow and in any case not a "modern man": rumination.

Preface to On the Genealogy of Morals (Kaufmann 23).

The worst readers.-- The worst readers are those who proceed like plundering soldiers: they pick up a few things they can use, soil and confuse the rest, and blaspheme the whole.

Aphorism 137 from Mixed Opinions and Maxims (1879) (Kaufmann 175).

Nietzsche's worst readers have probably been Germany's Nazi party. Where Nietzsche attacked Judeo-Christian morality, Nazi readers twisted Nietzsche's words and attacked specific people groups. Two examples may help separate Nietzsche's words from Nietzsche's interpreters.

The Nazis took to heart Nietzsche's image of the "blond beast," but neglected to read his detailed explanation of the characteristics of that very image. Nietzsche introduces the "blond beast" image in Essay I, Section 11:

One cannot fail to see at the bottom of all these noble races the beast of prey, the splendid blond beast prowling about avidly in search of spoil and victory; this hidden core needs to erupt from time to time, the animal has to get out again and go back to the wilderness: the Roman, Arabian, Germanic, Japanese nobility, the Homeric heroes, the Scandinavian Vikings--they all shared this need (Kaufmann 40-41).

Nietzsche considered this blond beast to be as much Roman or Arabian as Aryan, yet Nazis failed to understand Nietzsche's point.

Other readers have accused Nietzsche of anti-Semitism. Yet Nietzsche himself harshly rebuked the German anti-Semites and their preying on Germany's stagnant spirit. He writes in Essay III, Section 27:

...and I also do not like these latest speculators in idealism, the anti-Semites, who today roll their eyes in a Christian-Aryan-bourgeois manner and exhaust one's patience by trying to rouse up all the horned-beast elements in the people by a brazen abuse of the cheapest of all agitator's tricks, moral attitudinizing... (158).

As authors of this hypertext, it is our hope that we can help instill in readers a ruminative habit, "an art of exegesis," while steering ourselves clear of the ruinous fate that has befallen the worst of Nietzsche's readers.