Fragment: The Philology of the Future

I have never been convinced that Nietzsche heralded, as Heidegger claimed, “the death of metaphysics”, but instead thought that he demonstrated, indeed, its very inevitability. Yet a student today could be excused for thinking that that word “metaphysics” was some kind of vile academic invective.  In Porter I recently found a reassurance that I am not alone in this suspicion:

Nietzsche cannot be assumed to have passed from a philosophical naivete (as if in a “precritical” period) to some emancipated, free-spirited thinking that definitively outgrew the theoretical problems (and not just the philological materials) that he had encountered early on. I doubt that Nietzsche believed in grand emancipatory possibilities at any point in his career. His readings of the Presocratics (Heraclitus, Parmenides, or Democritus) put this beyond doubt for the early period: what these reflections show is something about the inescapably, not just of the category of the subject, but of its idealism– which is always bound up, for Nietzsche, with the subject’s infinite capacity for delusion. What we learn is that Nietzsche’s inquiries into ancient philosophy do not reveal a premetaphysical thinking that points to a region beyond metaphysics, as is frequently held. On the contrary, Nietzsche’s early writings reveal the inescapability of metaphysical thinking. […] But as Nietzsche says quite plainly in both phases, early and late, ‘It is absolutely impossible for the subject to want [and hence, to be able] to see and known something beyond itself: knowledge and being are the most contradictory spheres there are.’ The ‘subjective concept’ is ‘eternal’: we can never accede to a region ‘beyond the wall of relations’ by which we are conditioned, for beyond these lies merely ‘a mythical primordial ground of things'”.

Porter, James. 2002. Nietzsche and the Philology of the Future. Stanford: Standford University Press, 21.

3 thoughts on “Fragment: The Philology of the Future

  1. Bernhard says:

    A bit of wishful thinking, I suppose. I’m not familiar with the secondary literature on Nietzsche, is Heidegger’s interpretation commonly supposed in it? And in what context was Heidegger stating this? I assume as a lament?

    It seems somewhat analogous to how Wittgenstein’s early work was interpreted, as being a means of dismissing metaphysics as meaningless, whereas Wittgenstein arguably was trying to demarcate the metaphysical from matters of propositional logic so that he could get closer to metaphysics, not farther away from it.

    It is interesting that metaphysics has become a pejorative and dismissive term. I’m sure there’s probably a good essay on this somewhere.

    • Hey Bernhard,

      Thanks for the comment! As far as I know, Heidegger’s interpretation has been fairly influential in Nietzsche studies. At least some of the scholars I’ve encountered still hold onto it. I’ve not read his four volume “Nietzsche” in great detail, but I get the feeling that he was trying to position Nietzsche as a precursor to his own philosophy, with its focus on ontology and the question of Being. It’s much the same with Heidegger’s reading of Heraklitus and other Ancient Greek thinkers; invariably one learns more about Heidegger than anything else when one reads Heidegger.

      Interesting point about Wittgenstein. I admit that I’ve tended to shy away from his philosophy after encountering a number of philosophers who use his “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent” as a glib way of shutting down any conversation they disagree with.

      I’ve been quite interested in the role of metaphysics as myth and art in the work of the German neo-Kantian Friedrich Lange, who was also quite influential for the way Nietzsche understood the various natural sciences of his age. I’ve not come across anything that traces the history of the dismissal of metaphysics in contemporary scholarship though. If it’s not out there it sounds like a great project for someone!



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