Who was Friedrich Nietzsche? This lonely and chronically ill, yet passionate, daring, and complex man is perhaps the most mysterious and least understood of all contemporary philosophers. Why are his brilliant insights so relevant for today? How did he become the most misinterpreted and unfairly maligned intellectual figure of the last two centuries?
To provide shape to Nietzsche's thought, each of these 24 lectures focuses on specific ideas that preoccupied Nietzsche while tracing the profound themes that give meaning to his work. You'll get a chance to put Nietzsche's life and work in a larger historical and philosophical context. You'll explore the controversial philosopher's subtle, complex critique of both religious belief and Greek rationalism.
You'll also spend a wealth of time focusing on Nietzsche's famous writing style, which deftly combines the majesty of the prophet, the force of the Homeric warrior, and the lyricism of the poet - but which nonetheless is rife with inconsistencies, exaggerations, and personal attacks. And you'll get a better understanding of Nietzsche's complaints and criticisms of the intellectual currents of his time: Christian moralism, evolution, socialism, democracy, and nationalism.
As you make your way through these lectures, you'll discover that Nietzsche, even at his most polemical and offensive, exudes an unmistakable enthusiasm and love of life. In fact, you'll see that his exhortation to learn to love and accept one's own life, to make it better by becoming who one really is, forms the project that is the true core of his work.
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A sanitised one-sided diet of opinion
First and foremost, a confession that the views stated here reflect the lecturers' opinions, but are not to be considered THE truth of the matter. I have listened to other 'Great Courses', and I've found the lecturers to be generally balanced and eager to state that 'there are two sides, and I think this, but others disagree'. This is what you expect in an 'introductory' course. Here, we have an outrageously skewed attempt to defend Nietzsche against any who dislike him, for whatever reason. Yes, Nietzsche has been dealt with as an absurd straw man by many idiots over the years, but those can be dismissed fairly rapidly. We don't need an entire course saying: 'he wasn't as bad as you've heard!'
Secondly, some (at least SOME) coverage of the alternative interpretations. Not only of Nietzsche and his work, but also of the many other philosophers (covered in this course) to whom Nietzsche was responding. For example (this one really made me mad), the treatment of Hegel here is outrageously 'revised', when there is a genuinely 50/50 disagreement in academic philosophy between 'revised' Hegel and 'traditional' Hegel... I'm not saying the lecturers shouldn't argue their case, but they should at least acknowledge that there's some genuine interpretative disagreement here, and provide the listener with some informative stuff about each side. More importantly, the traditional Hegel interpretation is almost certainly closer to the one that Nietzsche was responding to, so it's borderline disingenuous - and, frankly, dishonest - to present Hegel in this modern way in the context of a Nietzsche introduction.
Thirdly, what they've made of Nietzsche's work... This process of defending him against all criticism, against all sensitive sensibilities, ends up stripping his work of the larger part of its power. It is meant, at times, to be upsetting, shocking, etc. That's part of the point. This sanitised 'nicey-nicey' version ends up looking like a shallow self-help system. The listener would be forgiven for thinking, on the basis of this introduction, that Nietzsche was just a misunderstood hippy.
Irritation, disappointment, frustration. I appreciate that I'm in a slightly different position to most listeners, in that I'm pretty well-versed in this stuff (PhD Philosophy, university philosophy lecturer who teaches Nietzsche), but I was hoping this would have some interesting discussion and interpretation, some different points of views or ways of putting/explaining things, some interesting facts that I hadn't heard before, just as I've found in other 'great courses'. But this was really lousy! I'm annoyed that there are now a load of people in the world who've heard this course and probably think Nietzsche was essentially a misunderstood hippy...! I found myself constantly wanting to say: 'Seriously, you're not going to mention THAT?!' Or: 'Seriously, you're going to leave it at THAT, and not mention the (sometimes dominant) view to contrary?!'
It's also rather US-centric. (Emerson gets some focus, but no Dostoevsky?!) Most of the 'up-to-date-real-life examples' are cringingly #firstworldproblems.
In conclusion, I'm left with this strange feeling that they've somehow insulted Nietzsche in this... They've tried to fit him and his work into anything that would feel comfortable for them. They've turned Nietzsche into a 'Last Man' version of Nietzschean philosophy. I think he'd be appalled.
- Toby B
Just what I wanted