Welcome to the Fall 2020 issue of The Agonist on Nietzsche and sports. According to a letter to his mother and sister, which Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) sent from Schulpforta in March 1863, there was a ‘ball’, on which occasion the older schoolboys played quite well, but his class didn’t. Nietzsche is referring to a school festival here, and the play his class performed was Schiller’s Wallensteins Lager. Despite his veneration of the intoxicating and overly dramatic God Dionysus, Nietzsche was quite the opposite type, as a school boy; ‘Fritz’, as his mother and sister called him, was the typical introvert bookworm, who liked to read and play the piano, but couldn’t stand noise and rough play, let alone sports. And whilst modern sports were upcoming in the second half of the nineteenth century in Europe, Nietzsche indeed only mentions the word ‘sport’ once, in a reference to erotic chase. ‘Sportsmen’ are referred to only once in his works, again in 1887, i.e., in On the Genealogy of Morals III 17, in a metaphorical sense.
So, Nietzsche’s own lived experiences with sports seem to be confined to horseback-riding, which he learned together with his best friend Erwin Rohde in early 1868, and hiking, which he did daily and with fervent ardor after his early retirement in 1879 from university life. Legend has it that Nietzsche was a rather talented horse rider and to his own surprise he was chosen for the horse artillery in fall of that same year, in spite of his severe myopia. His riding career ended prematurely in March 1868, though, when, during a too-quickly performed jump, he fell with his breast on the knob at the front of the saddle and ripped several muscles and ligaments and bruised some ribs.
The ‘and’ in the title ‘Nietzsche and Sports’ of this issue therefore strikes us as odd: we cannot learn anything from the historical development of sports by looking at Nietzsche’s life; Nietzsche doesn’t seem to have had any substantial interest in sports, nor did he ever reflect on sports as activity of personal, social or cultural value. He never developed a ‘philosophy of sports’ e.g., a phenomenological account of movement or an ethics of fair play and a sport[wo]manship. So why this issue on the topic of Nietzsche and sports?
The justification for this issue resides in the application of Nietzsche’s thoughts on play and agon to contemporary sports culture. Nietzsche’s philosophy is marked by two elements that are key for sport studies: his aesthetics and ontology revolve around the concepts of ‘play’ and ‘competition’ or ‘agon.’ What is more, his ethics rests on the stylization of the self and his anthropology and philosophy of culture are built on the idea of the moral and spiritual transformation of persons from ‘camel’ figure into ‘lion’ and finally ‘child’ figure. One of the hallmarks of this transformation is the ‘naturalization’ and ‘aestheticization’ of personal belief systems and perception of self and world, turning the hierarchy between body and mind upside down. In so doing, he is the first philosopher of modern philosophy to attach more value to the body than to the mind in epistemological matters.
After reading the contributions in this volume, it is clear, to me, that Nietzsche has much to offer to the philosophy of sports. The philosophy of sports would do well to turn their attention more to Nietzsche’s philosophy, especially if this discipline wants to expand its scope beyond the obvious (ethics of doping, fair play) and develop into the rich, exciting and promising discipline it can be by, for example, focusing more on its ontological and aesthetic qualities to affirm life, its agonism as part of it, and its creativity as life-giving power.
I hope you enjoy reading the articles in this issue as much as I did!
Martine Prange, Amsterdam, August 2020.