Saturday, June 17, 2017

The Nachlass and "The Will to Power," once again

Mazzino Montinari, Bernd Magnus, and (maybe?) R.J. Hollingdale all raised important doubts about the canonical status of the Nachlass material in the 1970s and 1980s.  On the standard narrative,  it appears Nietzsche wanted much of this material destroyed, and it was only the intervention of others, independent of Nietzsche, that resulted in the material being saved for posterity.  More recently, Julian Young (in his 2010 biography:  539-542) confirmed and documented Nietzsche’s abandonment of a project organized under the rubric Will to Power in favor of one organized around the idea of a Revaluation of All Values.  

Unsurprisingly, commentators committed to the centrality of “will to power” to Nietzsche’s thought have tried to resist this evidence.  Paul Katsafanas, for example, admits in his 2013 book that “if Nietzsche consigned so many of his writings on will to power to the wastebasket, he can hardly have regarded those notes as important,” but then claimed, surprisingly, that this “story [the familiar narrative] is apocryphal” (2013:  248), relying only on Hollingdale, whom Katsafanas reports says Nietzsche was only discarding the “page proofs of Twilight of the Idols” (2013:  248). 

It appears, however, Katsafanas did not consult the original German source for the story, namely, Carl Albrecht Bernoulli’s Franz Overbeck und Friedrich Nietzsche:  Eine Freundschaft (1908).  The text is a bit hard to decipher, given the font, but it does appear that Bernoulli, a student of Overbeck’s, reported that when Nietzsche left his flat in Sils Maria in September of 1888, he instructed his landlord Herr Durisch to “burn” his papers and notebooks, though the landlord disregarded the instructions (1908:  301).  Nietzsche left for Turin a couple of weeks later, and suffered his final mental collapse in early January of 1889.   Bernoulli does not specify the exact contents of the voluminous material Nietzsche asked to be destroyed, but Young reports that “many” of the “693 fragments” that Nietzsche’s sister put into the posthumous Will to Power “had in fact been consigned to Nietzsche’s wastepaper basket in Sils, from which, for unknown reasons, Durisch retrieved them” (Young 2010:  628 n. 9).  Thus, it appears a version of the standard narrative is correct:   much of what we have in the book known as The Will to Power—including its famous concluding section about will to power (as Montinari specifically documented)—represent work Nietzsche had rejected.