Thursday, September 4, 2014

Where to go to study Nietzsche, 2014 edition

The last version was 2012, so it warrants some updating given changes in the interim (and also some of the useful comments on the last version).  The recommendations are premised on three assumptions about what is needed to do good PhD work on Nietzsche:  (1) a strong, general philosophical education; (2) good Nietzsche scholars to supervise the work; and (3) a philosophical environment in which one can get a solid grounding in the history of philosophy, especially ancient philosophy, Kant, and post-Kantian German philosophy.

With that in mind, here's the eight programs I'd strongly recommend for someone certain they plan to focus on Nietzsche:

Birkbeck College, University of London:  a solid department overall, albeit a bit narrow (certainly top 10 in the UK), unusual in having two very substantial Nietzsche scholars on faculty, Ken Gemes and Andrew Huddleston.  If one reaches out to faculty at other London colleges, one can also get the necessary historical education in other figures.

Brown University:  a strong department overall (top 20 in the US), with one leading Nietzsche specialist, Bernard Reginster, and two other senior faculty with sympathetic interests in Nietzsche (Paul Guyer and Charles Larmore).  Guyer and Larmore, as well as Mary Louise Gill, provide strong coverage of other important periods and figures for purposes of studying Nietzsche.

Columbia University:  a very strong department overall (top 10ish in the US), with three senior faculty interested in Nietzsche:  Taylor Carman, Robert Gooding-Williams, and Frederick Neuhouser.  With these three, as well as Lydia Goehr and (part-time) Axel Honneth, also one of the best places in the U.S. to study the Continental traditions in philosophy.  Also offers strong coverage of ancient philosophy and Kant.

New York University:  the best department in the Anglophone world, now with three senior faculty with serious interests in Nietzsche:  Robert Hopkins, John Richardson, and Tamsin Shaw.  The department now also has strong coverage of ancient philosophy and through Richardson, Anja Jauernig and Beatrice Longuenesse, has strong coverage of Kant and the post-Kantian Continental traditions.  Given the department's dominant strengths in other areas to date (e.g., metaphysics, philosophy of mind), so far there have been few students there working on Nietzsche or other post-Kantian figures--something a prospective student should investigate.

Princeton University:  a very strong department overall (top 5ish in the US), with one leading figure in Nietzsche studies, Alexander Nehamas, who has returned in recent years to working on Nietzsche and supervising students (e.g., Huddleston at Birbeck, above).  Also very strong in ancient philosophy, with other faculty in Philosophy or cognate departments offering coverage of Kant and post-Kantian German philosophy (mostly 19th-century).

University of California, Riverside:  a solid department overall (top 30ish in the US) and one of the best places in the U.S. (perhaps the best) to study the Continental traditions in philosophy with Maudemarie Clark (a leading Nietzsche specialist), Pierre Keller, and Mark Wrathall, as well as Georgia Warnke in Political Science and a new junior faculty member in Philosophy, Andreja Novakovic,.  The department is especially notable for the way in which the study of the Continental traditions is closely integrated with the study of the rest of philosophy, to the enrichment of both.   (It's also a very collegial place, one of my favorite departments to visit in the country.)  There is also a large and impressive group of graduate students working on the post-Kantian traditions and/or interested in Nietzsche.

University of Chicago:  a strong, if somewhat idiosyncratic, department (top 20ish in the US), with particular strengths in ancient Greek and Roman philosophy and in Kant and post-Kantian German and French philosophy.  Chicago has to have more scholars interested in Nietzsche from more divergent points of view than anywhere else:  besides me, also James Conant, Robert Pippin, David Wellbery, and (part-time still) Michael Forster.  As with Riverside, there is a large group of students interested in Nietzsche (four of the six PhD students I'm currently working fairly closely with have substantial interests in Nietzsche, though most are not writing dissertations in German philosophy).

University of Warwick:  a solid department overall (top 10 in the UK), with two senior scholars interested in Nietzsche (Keith Ansell-Pearson, Peter Poellner) from different perspectives, and strong coverage generally of Kant and the post-Kantian Continental traditions (Quassim Cassam, Stephen Houlgate [who also is interested in Nietzsche], and A.D. Smith, among others).

Here are some other departments a student interested in Nietzsche should certainly consider as well:

Boston University:  a solid department (top 50 in the US), with a strong commitment to the history of philosophy, including Kant and the post-Kantian Continental traditions.  The Nietzsche scholar Paul Katsafanas was recently tenured there (though he is pushing a rather distinctive, and to my mind, implausible line about Nietzsche these days, though I still highly commend several of his earlier papers that we've discussed on this blog in the past--but students sympatico to his approach would no doubt find him an excellent person with whom to work).

Oxford University:  a very strong department (top 5 in the Anglophone world), with strong coverage of ancient philosophy and the history of philosophy, but only one significant Nietzsche scholar on faculty, Peter Kail.  Stephen Mulhall and Joseph Schear offer good coverage of other aspects of the post-Kantian Continental traditions.

Stanford University: a  very strong department (top 10 in the US), with two senior faculty who have done important work on Nietzsche:  Lanier Anderson and Nadeem Hussain.   In the past, I would have put Stanford in the top group, but Nadeem tells me he's not really working much on Nietzsche anymore.  Also strong in ancient philosophy and, with  Anderson and Michael Friedman, also very good for Kant.  The department's center of gravity, judging from its PhD graduates, does appear to be more in logic, language, mind, metaphysics & epistemology.

University of California, San Diego:  a strong department (top 20ish in the US), with two senior faculty interested in Nietzsche (Michael Hardimon and Donald Rutherford), and extensive coverage of ancient philosophy and Kant.

University College London:  a good department (top 5 in the UK), with three faculty with interests in Nietzsche:  Sebastian Gardner, Mark Kalderon, and Tom Stern--though for none does it appear to be a primary interest, except perhaps Stern (though I have mixed views of his work).  Gardner is also a major scholar of Kant and German Idealism.

University of Essex:  a narrow department, but strongly focused on Kant and the post-Kantian Continental traditions.  Two faculty do notable work on Nietzsche:   Beatrice Han-Pile and David McNeill.

University of Southampton:  another narrow department, but with a particular focus on Schopenhauer and Nietzsche--notable faculty include Christopher Janaway,  David Owen, and Aaron Ridley.

For a student looking to do a terminal M.A. first, s/he might consider any of the UK departments (where students first do a master's degree or B.Phil. before doing the PhD), or, in the U.S., Georgia State University remains far and away the best choice:  in addition to solid coverage of moral, political and legal philosophy, ancient philosophy, and philosophy of mind and cognitive science, the department has two well-known scholars who work on Nietzsche (Jessica Berry and Gregory Moore), and two other faculty who work on Kant and post-Kantian German philosophy (Sebastian Rand and Eric Wilson).

On the European Continent, the place to be for someone interested in Nietzsche now is the University of Bonn, with Michael Forster, a preeminent scholar of German philosophy of the 18th- and 19th-centuries, as well as ancient philosophy, and Mattia Riccardi, the best younger Nietzsche scholar in Europe in my experience (he also works on Kant and philosophy of mind and cognitive science).  The New University of Lisbon continues to have a lively philosophical community interested in Nietzsche led by Joao Constancio.

Tom Stern's silly review of the Oxford Handbook of Nietzsche in the September 3 TLS

London has long been a lively place for Nietzsche studies (with Ken Gemes and now Andrew Huddleston at Birkbeck, Sebastian Gardner and Mark Kalderon at UCL, as well as Daniel Came and Peter Kail not far away to the north, and Christopher Janaway and others not far away to the south), so it's a bit surprising that Tom Stern, who also teaches at UCL and professes a scholarly interest in Nietzsche, should have penned a rather silly "review" of The Oxford Handbook of Nietzsche edited by Ken Gemes and John Richardson.  Unfortunately, it's behind a paywall, though you are not missing anything if you can't access it.  I sent the TLS a brief letter about this sophomoric "review":

To the editors:
As one of 34 contributors to The Oxford Handbook of Nietzsche, and one of the minority in the volume actually conversant with what remains of “analytic” philosophy, I was astonished to learn from Tom Stern (review, Sept. 3) that the Handbook represents “The Analytic Nietzsche.”  “Analytic philosophy is broadly ahistorical in outlook,” Stern notes, but much of my own work has been devoted to showing how ignorance of the intellectual history of 19th-century Germany, in particular the rise of German materialism, has distorted readings of Nietzsche.  Other contributors examine in detail the influence of Greek philosophy and culture, the German Romantics, and Kant and NeoKantians.  Stern asserts that Nietzsche was “heart and soul, a brilliant nineteenth-century German,” for whom Wagner and Bismarck were very important.  There are six dozen references to Wagner in The Oxford Handbook, many extended discussions, though fewer of Bismarck.   Nietzsche himself would have stoutly denied Stern’s cramped characterization of him, and the content of the actual essays in the volume (which are hardly discussed) belies it rather decisively, as does the wide resonance Nietzsche has had across time and cultures.
Stern continues:  “Analytic philosophy favours clear definition. Nietzsche once wrote that only that which has no history can be defined.”  Good philosophy, like good scholarship, generally favors clarity in exposition, but not necessarily definitions (as Nietzsche himself quipped:  “Those who know that they are profound strive for clarity. Those who would like to seem profound strive for obscurity”).  Nietzsche’s point from the Genealogy that the meaning of concepts (like “punishment”) varies across historical and cultural epochs (and thus can not be defined) has no relevance to whether or not that claim can be clearly stated and evaluated.  Finally, Stern declares that, “analytic philosophers kneel before the Dread God of Consistency: if you hold ‘P’ you cannot also hold ‘not-P’.”  Actually, Socrates, Aristotle, Descartes, Leibniz, Kant, Husserl and Habermas, among others, all accept the law of non-contradiction, though I assume they are not “analytic” philosophers, despite their kneeling.  Indeed, it’s a bit hard to see what philosophical exposition of Nietzsche would look like if it were as cavalier about non-contradiction as Stern appears to be.
I have a different hypothesis about Stern’s invention of the bogeyman of “the Analytic Nietzsche.”  Anglophone Nietzsche studies has improved dramatically in the last two decades in terms of historical scholarship, sensitivity to textual evidence and nuance, and philosophical sophistication.   All this has been rather jarring to the lazy and superficial readers and sophomoric enthusiasts Nietzsche’s brilliant writing sometimes attracts.  They want to cabin off serious historical and philosophical scholarship as “analytic,” so they can ignore it.  But they have lost that philosophical battle in the Anglophone world, and are gradually losing it on the European Continent.  Nietzsche, who lauded the “art of reading well,” would have been pleased.
The review is actually worse than this letter lets on--Stern discusses almost none of the actual content of the volume, and uses what space he has mostly for sneering and misstatements both of the topics covered by the actual essays and the particular positions defended.  What an embarrassment for both TLS and UCL.

ADDENDUM (9/15):  The review is here (though I can't get it to download, but others say they can).  Since several of Tom Stern's colleagues (in comments below), none of whom work on Nietzsche or are familiar with the book under review, have denied that the review is at all mocking or sneering, permit me to try to explain how the review reads if you know something both about Nietzsche and the book:
Stern begins with a few paragraphs suggesting that one “can order whichever Nietzsche you want” (even though some of those offered as examples were manifest travesties of misinterpretation), and then we learn the Oxford Handbook is just the latest in this litany, “the Analytic Nietzsche.”  What’s an “Analytic Nietzsche”:  well, analytic philosophers write in “cold, unlovely, jargoned prose,” are “ahistorical,” and “kneel before the Dread God of Consistency.”  We are reminded how unlike Nietzsche this all allegedly is—Nietzsche after all is just a brilliant 19th-century German mainly concerned with Wagner and Bismarck, plus he contradicts himself a lot.  (The last two claims, for Nietzsche scholars, are at best contentious, at worst false.)

In case you didn’t yet get the point how strange the Analytic Nietzsche’s approach is, Stern reports that Nietzsche’s “analytic lieutenants” (one might have called them scholars) “inform their readers that either Nietzsche held such-and-such a very complicated, exegetically speculative ‘theory”’or he was simply inconsistent. Fear of the second option is meant to compel the reader into the awkward embrace of the first: your money or your life.”  Ha, ha, these “analytic lieutenants” are so silly.

Stern declares the Oxford Handbook is a “victory monument” to “the Analytic Nietzsche” (although only a minority of the contributions are engaged with analytic philosophy, many write on historical topics, many in fact deal with Wagner, one of the two editors is best-known for offering a brilliant defense of Heidegger’s and Deleuze’s famous reading of Nietzsche, etc.).  Stern then shifts gear to discuss another book for several paragraphs, until finally, he allows (well past the midway point of the review, and after the preceding mockery) that “to call the analytic Nietzsche a mode of interpretation is not to deny its considerable virtues….It wins, hands down, on clarity of expression and conceptual complexity.”  He then quotes something suitably obscure from the bad book by Sloterdijk by way of contrast, and declares:  “the Handbook is an excellent collection, for Nietzsche scholars working in this tradition,” i.e., the “Analytic Nietzsche” tradition that, until now, most of the review had been poking fun at.  The implication, as I note in my letter to the TLS, is that everyone else can just ignore it.

After a few lines of generic praise for unnamed articles (almost none of the content of the book, remarkably, is actually discussed), Stern return to his attack on “the Analytic Nietzsche,” to “what is left out, what is magnified and what, occasionally, gets distorted.”  One essay (I’m not sure which one, actually) that attempts to understand Nietzsche’s views on truth is mocked for allegedly “simply rid[ding] itself of” a “troublesome sentence.”  (Many Nietzsche scholars take the view that his Nachlass material is misleading, and I suspect that’s what is really at issue here.)

We conclude where we left off, with ridicule:  “Unlike many previous Nietzsche incarnations,s” the Analytic Nietzsche “finds himself on the periphery,” unlike, say, the Nazi Nietzsche.  (That’s a charming comparison, but one that also reflects Stern’s ignorance of the many surprising places Nietzsche is turning up in Anglophone philosophy [e.g., recent work by Knobe, Prinz], beyond the two or three authors he seems to be familiar with.)  Indeed, Stern reminds us, Williams thought “that Nietzsche was not a source of philosophical theories,” so yet another reason for “doubt” about the Analytic Nietzsche.  And, let’s not forget the apparently just charge (Stern does not rebut it) that “the analytic Nietzsche muffles him or suck the life from his living words.” 

Very "entertaining", sure, but also unfair and belittling toward the Handbook and its contributors and to philosophical scholarship on Nietzsche.