Every Name in History: The Cosmopolitan Kindergarten, Introduction By David Kilpatrick



What brings us together, the meaning, purpose or theme of this symposium, the justification for our assembly, the call for our gathering is perhaps paradoxical. “Nietzsche in History” as a session in a series on “Nietzsche Today” is caught in the tension between the poles of the past and present. Many questions are begged with such a call. Why Nietzsche now? Which Nietzsche now? How might Nietzsche be relevant at this time in relation to his past and/or our past/s? Nietzsche of course may be in peril of being confined to history, becoming an artifact in a history of ideas, listed among thinkers and catalogued, his thoughts classified and historicized. How should we proceed or, more to the point, how must we proceed – for if there is no urgency, no necessity, why bother – to answer this call or these calls?

Who should we blame for the preposition planted in the proposition, the provocation of our gathering? The in in our invitation summons to my mind the lines written by Nietzsche from Torino on 6 January 1889, three days after his collapse in the Piazza Carlo Alberto, to Jacob Burkhardt: “at root every name in history is I” or, in another translation, “at bottom I am every name in history”. Such an inn won’t provide rest for a weary traveler but uproots and dislocates, an invitation to an unhomely concern. How will we answer such a summons? And how do we think through this problem of one who ecstatically identifies with every name in history? Should such sentiment be dismissed as a symptom of psychological sickness? Can such a statement mean anything more than mere madness?

Our now, our historical present, the news this week, this month bring certain associations to mind. How are we to reconcile or come to terms with if not understand how a plane bound from Barcelona for Düsseldorf, Germanwings Flight 9525, is intentionally crashed into the French Alps by Andreas Lubitz, writing his name on the long list of madmen in history by killing himself and 149 people who trusted him to fly them to their destination safely. “He was passionate about the Alps – obsessed even” said Dieter Wagner, a co-member of the flying club in Montabaur with Lubitz. Without the reassurance of theological or ideological motivation, the staging of such a disaster leaves the world to ponder yet another German nihilist suicidal mass-murderer. We thought we had seen enough last century. But Nietzsche’s identification with such nihilism must be rejected, whether it be associated with Lubitz or Hitler. Nietzsche cannot say no to such association with nihilistic acts as disparate as Flight 9525 and the Shoah/ ?????. But his readers are obliged to do so. This morning’s news also told of swastikas at SUNY-Purchase and tensions with Hasidics in Rockland. Given his erroneous associations with nihilism, anti-Semitism and National Socialism, we have yet to move beyond the world-historical crises with which many associate Nietzsche.

So when we talk about “Nietzsche in History,” we cannot simply erase that Nietzsche, the false, fraudulent or misunderstood Nietzsche. We must continue to come to terms with the misappropriation of Nietzsche while being sensitive to watchful of being guilty of such an error ourselves. Nietzsche surely has a troubled history or a problematic relationship to history, how his history is told. The syphilitic lunatic and the megalomaniacal ideologue of racial supremacy are both identifiers with which Nietzsche’s thoughts are still too often dismissed and we would be remiss if we did not acknowledge such misrepresentations. We must do so if we are to listen to his sacred YES and to hear how this untimely thinker speaks to our time.

There is, of course, no shortage in Nietzsche’s corpus of prolonged meditations on history and the historical as well as his place in history. The first fifteen sections of The Birth of Tragedy an “elaborate historical example” before he relocates his ancient concern with what the mythopoetics of Wagner’s Gesamtkunstwerk might mean for a modern Germany in his 1872 book-length debut. At the risk of cherry-picking (an inevitable hazard for any textual engagement with one who dared write such often contradictory provocations – Walter Kaufmann tries to convince Nietzsche’s audience that The Birth of Tragedy ought to end with the history of the first fifteen sections and excuse if not ignore the application of this history to modernity in the remaining ten sections, as if embarrassed by the use of history), with a glance over my shoulder to keep in mind how history views and reviews Nietzsche, I’d like to undergo a preliminary teasing out of some textual threads that show how Nietzsche plays with history and historiography.

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