February 19, 2007

CHALLENGED AND LOST:

American Idol: America has been surprisingly fertile ground for Nietzsche's ideas -- even though he challenged pretty much everything America embodies or represents. (Christopher Shea, February 18, 2007, Boston Globe)

In an essay in the latest issue of the Journal of American History, Ratner-Rosenhagen, who got her doctorate at Brandeis, explores how Nietzsche -- his ideas, but just as much, his name and visage -- became such a potent symbol in American culture. The story stretches from the journalist H.L. Mencken's championing of him in the early years of the 20th century as an antidote to the middlebrow "booboisie" he loathed ("Only blockheads today know nothing of his ideas and only fools are unshaken by them") through Nietzsche's use today as a pop-culture prop [...]

But Ratner-Rosenhagen argues that, in a more serious way, America has been surprisingly fertile ground for Nietzsche's ideas, ever since he was first translated into English, in 1896. This is more than a little counterintuitive, as she points out, because Nietzsche challenged pretty much everything America embodies or represents, including the ideal of equality, reverence for Enlightenment rationality, and belief in God.

In a sense, that's precisely why a frustrated minority of marginalized and discontented Americans have seized on Nietzsche as a thinker and symbol. The commercial bourgeois culture, hostile to art and learnedness, that Nietzsche worried about in Europe was even more advanced here. "American readers" -- or at least those on the margins -- "have had a sense that Nietzsche is talking to them directly," Ratner-Rosenhagen says. For them, she writes, Nietzsche provided a "moral language for greatness."

The American academy, naturally the main site of arguments over Nietzsche, has been divided over what to make of this moral language.


It's not counterintuitive, but counterfactual. Mencken is famous for being at odds with the mainstream of American opinion, specifically its Judeo-Christianity and Americans are notoriously anti-Academy for precisely the reason that intellectuals are so gullible they lap up drivel like Nietzschism, Darwinism, Marxism, Freudianism, and the rest.

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 19, 2007 12:00 AM
Comments

"The commercial bourgeois culture, hostile to art and learnedness..."

Is that supposed to be bad, given what "art" and "learnedness" have become?

Posted by: jdkelly at February 19, 2007 12:17 PM
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