Tom Stern, who was a graduate student here in Cambridge while I was still in the Faculty, has edited The New Cambridge Companion to Nietzsche, newly published by CUP. I’ve dipped into it. The editor’s “Introduction: Nietzsche’s Life and Works” is characteristically lucid. But I was very struck by his peroration:
Looking at the different ‘Nietzsches’ described in this introduc- tion – the phases of his writing, the varying interpretations, textual complexities, stylistic challenges and the likely unfamiliarity of his historical context – the non-specialist reader may be tempted to despair of ever finding a stable, satisfactory view of his ideas. One could offer many responses to such perfectly understandable despair: that Nietzsche may have cultivated it, and certainly to some degree deserves it; that some ideas nonetheless appear often enough, and with sufficient force, to be ascribed to him; that often there is, if not critical consensus, at least a shared sense of the available options, with their strengths and weaknesses. But perhaps the best reply would be that, whatever Nietzsche thought, the confrontation with his texts and his interpreters has repeatedly proven itself to be enormously fruitful. When reading his works, or a Companion such as this, you will probably meet some thought which lights you up. And it might even be one of Nietzsche’s.
And there you have why I can’t find much enthusiasm for writers like Nietzsche. I do read a fair amount of literary fiction and poetry. But when it comes to philosophy, I really don’t want to be “confronting” texts, I don’t want “stylistic challenges”, I don’t want to tangle with “varying interpretations”. I just want the directest plain talk, as explicit as possible, with reasoning laid out on the table and the steps signalled as clearly and frankly as may be. I’m not sure I particularly want to be “lit up” — I much rather want to see honest toil in working through the details of hard arguments. So in philosophy, I guess I’m just a bone-headed philistine. (Or still a mathmo at heart, and not a real philosopher at all.)