Beyond Good and Evil translation…

Critical Animal also asked how the translation is. I was going to write about this today anyway. First, I like the cover: simple, green, typical of Cambridge editions (after the switch from blue). Good start. Not like, say, the picture of firefighters in the aptly-named Wilder edition. It could be that reading it through in one sitting (a nine hour flight over from Europe) led me to grow slightly frustrated with the rather unexciting prose of this translation. The translator, Judith Norman, has wisely chosen to leave much of Nietzsche’s foreign language references in the original, as well as deciding to keep certain German words, well, German. I always wonder why that isn’t done more. If the translator says, as Norman does, that Gemüt is difficult to translate, why not just leave it in with a decent footnote? But over all, this seemed a lot less lively than the Kaufmann translation–whatever the faults people have long found in it. Nietzsche sudden breaks and turn-abouts in sentences in the German are just hard to reproduce and so the vivacity of his prose is tough to keep. So all in all, a decent translation for teaching.

But let me use this as a place for a confession: I am one of those continentals who never really fell in love with Nietzsche. Certainly, I love a number of aphorisms and his writings on the death of God and the eternal return have left an indelible mark on me. But I just never had that Nietzschean period that everyone else seems to go through somewhere in college or before. And many keep him as a touchtone afterwards. But the person to me whom I was reading and fell in love with for his humor, even if you like nothing else, was Derrida. Nietzsche’s biting, sarcastic, and so on, but that’s so much of our political discourse today and what I grew up on that it didn’t strike me as radically different. And really, as someone long interested in politics and egalitarianism, Nietzsche offers … Well what does he offer? I’ve written on his contributions to thinking communities of difference and I like how he is read by other thinkers, but whatever nuances one can spend years teasing out, it’s about mastery and domination. And that struck me as an odd character–and he does produce a character in his works–to “identify” with. You can write me if you wish about how correctly to interpret the will to power, the look from on high of the noble spririt, and so on, but why do all that work in Nietzsche and not just pick someone else up? I like when he writes about Europe being but a little indent off of Asia. But I think being a Good European just isn’t enough, no matter how much you might try to find some other text underneath all that stuff on the mixture of races.

Maybe also–and one can’t minimize this—Nietzschean students always felt like the poseurs he so often critiqued. These were the herd people he would have destroyed first. Down with you black-shirted people! “They have preserved too much of what should be destroyed!” (BGE, 62).

But I’ve picked out  a number of great passages that excite me in this work and that I’ll pass along and try to get my students excited about, too.