cover image How Nietzsche Came in from the Cold: Tale of a Redemption

How Nietzsche Came in from the Cold: Tale of a Redemption

Philipp Felsch. Polity, $29.95 (264p) ISBN 978-1-5095-5761-5

During a 12-year period of mental illness, Friedrich Nietzsche generated nearly 5,000 pages of fragmentary notes, explains historian Felsch (The Summer of Theory) in this sinuous and sophisticated study. In the 1950s, it was revealed that Nietzsche’s right-wing sister had made edits as she prepared these documents for publication, but most scholars, according to Felsch, were not concerned that major distortions had occurred. However, Giorgi Colli and Mazzino Montinari, two antifascist Italian academics with “an erotically charged teacher-student relationship,” became transfixed by the idea of rehabilitating Nietzsche’s philosophy after its embrace by the Nazis. With the help of their communist credentials, in 1961 they accessed the archive in East Germany, where it was locked away as fascist propaganda. Yet as they began piecing together an “original” edition, French philosopher Michel Foucault started using Nietzsche’s writing to theorize that all engagement with a text is an act of interpretation. As this perspective coalesced into postmodernism, Colli and Montinari’s search for an “authentic” Nietzsche was derided as backwards. Their work nonetheless gained influence, though it was hotly contested, including by leftists critical of the redemption of a right-wing figure. Drawing on four decades of correspondence between the duo, Felsch paints a nuanced portrait of postwar Europe’s intellectual culture. It’s an elegant examination of the passion of academic pursuit. (June)