A Few Thoughts on Nietzsche: I

Since Nietzsche’s lifework has been hugely influential to me I will begin a series my own reflections upon his writings which will appear time to time.

I’ve grown weary of the academics and Internet know-it-alls (sometimes, these are embodied in the same person) who dissect Nietzsche’s work without, well, ever actually engaging Nietzsche. Often times it seems to me that commentators engage in a (self-)deceptive game of hearsay relying, as they do, upon translations as well as secondary, if not thrice-removed, literature as basis of their critiques and commentary. The following isn’t meant to be definitive in any way, simply observations I’ve gleaned over the years.

1. Nietzsche was a musician. This fact is almost always relegated to an aside, a hobby perhaps, and since, by the authority vested in Wagner, Nietzsche’s music wasn’t up to par in terms of seriousness. Nietzsche’s love and writing of music cannot be taken…well…seriously. To most, music has no bearing on Nietzsche’s writing, neither form nor content (as if they’re separable in Nietzsche’s case). That living in our world may be more akin to music than logic seems utterly baffling, at best, to most academics and Internet loud-mouths.

A perhaps: no rhythm, tone deafness, the proverbial two left feet?

2. Nietzsche was a philologist. The fact that nearly all pontificating Anglo-American commentators (as well as some of well-known Europeans) ignore his profession becomes all to apparent particularly when it comes to Nietzsche’s terminology, ‘der Wille zur Macht.’ This is nearly always rendered as ‘the will to power’ and yet the latter is not what Nietzsche wrote. Given Nietzsche’s use of Greek and Latin in certain texts (ex: amor fati), it is highly uncharacteristic that he would use his native German if he were implying the Latin concept ‘potere,’ the term by way of which we derive our word ‘power.’

This isn’t simply an insignificant semantic play. Macht is related to our word ‘might,’ which has the sense of strength but also possibility, that is ‘may.’ Going back even further these are all rooted in a Proto-Indo-European (PIE) notion which indicates ability due to favorable circumstances not under one’s control.

Secondly, nearly every commentator misses the mark in translating ‘Kunst‘ and ‘der Kunstler‘ as ‘art’ and ‘artist’ respectively. Why may this be important? Well, given that the same basis as Macht, that is Nietzsche’s profession, his selective usage of Latin terminology as well as etymology, we can easily come to see that kunst is derived from the same root as our word ‘can’ as well as ‘ken,’ and the German können. Can, as well as its German cousin both derive from another PIE root concept which, in contrast with Macht/might/may, indicated ability due to favorable circumstance within one’s control.

While Latin-based ‘power’ shares with the Germanic words Macht and können the notion ‘to be able,’ it thoroughly lacks the nuance and interplay of the latter words, much less Nietzsche’s play and interplay between them in context of his work overall.


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