In the past three decades I have read some – not all – of Friedrich Nietzsche’s works, finding him often obscure, dense, opaque, and less meaningful than I had expected from so famous a name. Scottish academic Lee Spinks has managed to change my mind with his undergraduate primer on the controversial 19th century German thinker.
Spinks’s Friedrich Nietzsche (Routledge, 2003) is part of the ‘Routledge Critical Thinkers’ series, designed to make complex ideas accessible without assuming the reader has absorbed the entire body of work produced by the subject of the primer. That’s an admirable service to interested readers.
One of the most powerful impressions on me after reading Spinks was just how pervasive Nietzsche’s ideas have become, woven into the most unlikely commonplaces, like television drama, art critique, literature, political debate, and even advertising, but mostly without explicitly acknowledging that parentage. This pervasiveness makes it easy to respond to direct contact with his unadulterated ideas with an indifferent shoulder shrug. Until it is recalled he originated these now normalised concepts when they might have been seen as revolutionary, and that his ideas have become enormously influential despite a common, naïve condemnation of his work as ideological justification for fascist excesses. Or was it because of that association? He was, in fact, rather contemptuous of any ideological justification for terror, and would have been disgusted by the Nazis as examples of weak, slavish, ressentiment-driven malefactors.