‘Learn to read me well!’

It’s no secret I hold a deep admiration for Nietzsche. I’ve been careful, with whom I’ve shared this
interest, to sharply distinguish my own obsession with him from the easy, adolescent enthusiasm which so often characterizes his reference within popular culture. Perhaps this my purely egotistical attempt to invalidate the excitement that comes from reading Nietzsche. Myself, I’ve never had that kind of reaction. Reading him is always disturbing.

In spite of his appearance on the academic scene, there are aspects of his thought which I believe will remain unassimilable both to pop culture and to academic institutions, even when they try to do him justice. I’m talking about the careful and slow way he wanted us to read him. 

I believe this because I am persuaded there exists a self-induced attention deficit disorder within our popular consciousness, which has neither the patience nor the discipline required to meet Nietzsche on his own terms. Its focus is only the amount of time it takes to fully grasp or understand (or to put it differently – consume) an artist, a movement of thought, a period of history, etc. It believes itself to be sophisticated to a degree beyond popular culture, and it cannot comprehend that we are simultaneously outside and within popular culture. Under the influence of such impatient restlessness, creation are thought are assigned too little time, thus too little value. 

Only after we force Nietzsche through the paper shredder of culture and value do we arrive at such assumptions like, ‘Nietzsche is a Nihilist!’ or ‘Nietzsche is a Fascist!’ or ‘Nietzsche is an Existentialist!’ There is nothing more vulgar for Nietzsche’s admirers to hear than such a fallacious indictment. 

To return to his remarks on how he intended to be read…

From the 1886 preface to Morgenröte (Daybreak) 

It is not for nothing that I have been a philologist, perhaps I am a philologist still, that is to say, a teacher of slow reading: – in the end I also write slowly. Nowadays it is not only my habit, it is also to my taste – a malicious taste, perhaps? – no longer to write anything which does not reduce to despair every sort of man who is ‘in a hurry’. For philology is that venerable art which demands of its votaries one thing above all: to go aside, to take time, to become still, to become slow…this art does not so easily get anything done, it teaches to read well, that is to say, read slowly, deeply, looking cautiously before and aft, with reservations, doors left open, with delicate eyes and fingers…My patient friends, this book desires for itself only perfect readers and philologists: learn to read me well! 


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