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The Genealogy of Genealogy: Interpretation in Nietzsche’s Second

Untimely Meditation and in The Genealogy of Morals

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Abstract

Though it is often vague, naive, nostalgic and sometimes cloying, Nietzsche’s second Untimely Meditations, which denounces history as long as it is not made to ‘serve life’, must still be taken seriously — for two reasons.1 First, because of its virtues, which we must not allow its vices to obscure and which, if Nietzsche is right in agreeing with Goethe that ‘when we cultivate our virtues we at the same time cultivate our vices’ (Foreword, p. 60), may be intimately connected with them. Second, because Nietzsche’s essay addresses the question of the relationship of our past to our present and future: ‘If you are to venture to interpret the past you can do so only out of the fullest exertion of the vigour of the present.... When the past speaks it always speaks only as an oracle: only if you are an architect of the future will you understand it’ (VI, p. 94). The essay thus addresses the most central theoretical question concerning interpretation: Is meaning discovered or created? Better put: Can meaning be discovered at all if it is not at the same time being created? And since the ultimate product of this question is Nietzsche’s genealogical method, the second Untimely Meditation provides us with the material for a genealogy of genealogy itself. But if that is the case, then we certainly must not be deterred by its vices.

Keywords

  • Causal Sequence
  • Historical Sense
  • Moral Approach
  • German Youth
  • Moral Account

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Notes

  1. On the Uses and Disadvantages of History for Life, in Friedrich Nietzsche, Untimely Meditations, trans. R. J. Hollingdale (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983).

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  2. See Mark Warren, Nietzsche and Political Thought (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1988)

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  3. Jonathan Culler, The Pursuit of Signs: Semiotics, Literature, Deconstruction (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1981), p. 5.

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  4. Jorge Luis Borges, ‘Tunes the Memorious’, in Labyrinths (New York: New Directions, 1964).

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  5. Arthur C. Danto, ‘The End of Art’, in his The Philosophical Disenfranchisement of Art (New York: Columbia University Press, 1986), pp. 114–15.

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  6. Paul de Man, Allegories of Reading (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1979), pp. 79–102.

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  7. For a criticism of de Man’s interpretation of The Birth of Tragedy, see Maudemarie Clark, ‘Deconstructing The Birth of Tragedy’, International Studies in Philosophy, 19 (1987), pp. 69–75.

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  8. I have made an argument for this claim in my essay, ‘Writer, Text, Work, Author’, in Anthony J. Cascardi (ed.), Literature and the Question of Philosophy (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987), pp. 267–91.

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  9. Arthur C. Danto, ‘Some Remarks on The Genealogy of Morals’, International Studies in Philosophy, 18 (1986), p. 13.

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  10. An interesting connexion between Nietzsche’s and Overbeck’s attitude toward this issue is established in Lionel Gossman’s ‘Antimodernism in nineteenth-century Basle’, Interpretation, 16 (1989), pp. 359–89.

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© 1991 Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited

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Nehamas, A. (1991). The Genealogy of Genealogy: Interpretation in Nietzsche’s Second. In: Freadman, R., Reinhardt, L. (eds) On Literary Theory and Philosophy. Palgrave Macmillan, London. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-349-21613-0_12

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