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Helmut Walther (Nuremberg)

Nietzsche and Stirner
Comments on a Text by Bernd A. Laska (2002)

In his article, Nietzsches initiale Krise. Die Stirner-Nietzsche-Frage in neuem Licht which was published at the beginning of November, 2002, in: Germanic Notes and Reviews, vol. 33, n. 2, pp. 109-133: (Internet-Link see below) the author traces Nietzsche's actual "philosophische Initialzündung" (initial philosophical inspiration) back to his reading Stirner's "Einziger" which had supposedly been made accessible to him in Berlin, in 1865, by Eduard Mushacke and which supposedly threw him into a serious crisis. The "Erzählung" (report) of Nietzsche on his simultaneous Leipzig discovery of Schopenhauer was supposedly only a guise and and a diversion from his actual inspiration, Stirner. Since any evidence with respect to this is lacking, the author, himself, only refers to a postulate, of indirect hints in Nietzsche's writings, and he "reconstructs", by means of a more than meagre evidence, how this might have occurred.

Here, I do not wish to comment on this meagre evidence, myself, since, in the case of such subjective interpretation, the situation is similar to that in matters of faith, where everything is speculation, I lean more towards a sceptical Epoché (refraining from rendering judgment) than towards a plunge into a prejudiced opinion.

On the other hand, the author appears to me-- guided by the intention of trying to prove Stirner's role as initiator-- to have disregarded certain general considerations that could stand in the way of his thesis:

1. Even if one goes out from Nietzsche's possible 1865 Berlin reading of Stirner's work, then this was, by no means, his first involvement with philosophy that left a deep impression on him. Not only was he already familiar with ancient-Greek philosophy (through Schulpforta and through his own poetic and dramatic writings), but he had already seriously dealt with Stirner's "colleagues", the so-called Junghegelians, namely D.F. Strauß and, above all, Ludwig Feuerbach (already in 1862, and in this respect I refer here to "Werke – Willensfreiheit und Fatum"). From this, he had alsready been familiar with Left-leaning Hegelian thought, which had, by that time, already estranged him from Christianity. Moreover, his decision to turn away from theology, had already been formed in Bonn, thus before his visit to Berlin.

2. In his report on his discovery of Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, himself, reported of a crisis situation to which Laska expressively refers. Not to believe Nietzsche's report here, but rather to intepret it as a "guise", is entirely deliberate. What should be noted above all, however, is, that a young man who, like Nietzsche, dealt seriously and existentially with philosophy, will necessarily be thrown into a serious crisis, and that without any "sudden initial inspiration", which is what Laska bases his theory on, after all; with respect to such a serious crisis, I would like to refer to an enlightening example, namely that of David Hume, who, at the end of his early work, the Treatise of Human Nature, wrote that he

"who having struck on many shoals, and having narrowly escap'd shipwreck in passing a small frith ... I am first affrighted and confounded with that forelorn solitude, in which I am plac'd in my philosophy, and fancy myself some strange uncouth monster, who not being able to mingle and unite in society, has been expell'd all human commerce, and left utterly abandon'd and disconsolate. Fain wou'd I run into the crowd for shelter and warmth; but cannot prevail with myself to mix with such deformity. I call upon others to join me, in order to make a company apart; but no one will hearken to me ... I foresee on every side, dispute, contradiction, anger, calumny and detraction. When I turn my eye inward, I find nothing but doubt and ignorance. " Hume schreibt, daß er bereit sei, "to reject all belief and reasoning;, und daß er " can look upon no opinion even as more probable or likely than another. Where am I, or what? ... I ... begin to fancy myself in the most deplorable condition imaginable, inviron'd with the deepest darkness, and utterly depriv'd of the use of every member and faculty" Hume ist sogar bereit, "to throw all my books and papers into the fire" und faßt beinahe den Entschluß, " to perish on the barren rock, on which I am at present ". (Quoted from: A Treatise on Human Nature as to its English part, and from: Gerhard Streminger, David Hume: Eine Untersuchung über den menschlichen Verstand. Ein einführender Kommentar. New edition published on the internet at: http://www.streminger/hume – dort Kap. II, S. 21 f.)

In many respects, this self-evaluation agrees with that which Nietzsche rendered in his Schopenhauer report.

Hume overcame this crisis that arose out of an extremely sceptical viewpoint and became one of the most charming hosts as well as one of the most important empiristic philosophers whose influence, particularly on Kant, can hardly be exaggerated; and Nietzsche, as Laska himself points out with his initial quote of 1885, was able to accomplish the same:

So lernte ich bei Zeiten schweigen, so wie, dass man reden lernen müsse, um recht zu schweigen: dass ein Mensch mit Hintergründen Vordergründe nötig habe, sei es für Andere, sei es für sich selber: denn die Vordergründe sind einem nötig, um von sich selber sich zu erholen, und um es Anderen möglich zu machen, mit uns zu leben. [Thus I learned early on to keep silent as well as that one has to talk in order to keep silent properly, that a man with a background requires foregrounds, be it for others, be it for himself, since the foregrounds are necessary [for him] so that he can recuperate from himself, and they are necessary to make it possible for others, to live with us.]

Therefore, there is not reason to look for a "special" crisis, into which gap Stirner would have to be inserted. Rather, NIetzsche, (as Hume), found himself on a long path, from his early youth on, which (in both cases, in that of Hume and in that of Nietzsche) is well documented.

3. Above all, Laska's text leaves the reader behind confused as to what might be won if Nietzsche's reading of Stirner's writing(s) could be proven; does he want to present Nietzsche as a plagiarist? He describes this debate, himself, and, indeed, it does not have to be repeated, since their thinking, in spite of some common ground, went quite different ways and arrived at quite different results. Therefore, it appears that the author is mainly concerned to reserve a special place for Stirner's "individual anarchism" and to draw attention to Stirner's striving by describing him as Nietzsche's most important inspiration

However, even if we were to suppose that Nietzsche received his "initial philosophical inspiration" from Stirner, which, after all, is the actual point of Laska's text, what would be gained by that, for the interpretation of Nietzsche? Obviously, hardly anything, since Nietzsche's actual importantce lies in quite different areas than Stirner's "deconstruction" of the "individual" who has "sein Sach auf Nichts gestellt hat" (built his house on nothing).

In any event, if you read German fairly well, you might wish to take a look at Laska's text on the internet at:

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