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Frank Chouraqui’s invigorating book on Nietzsche and Merleau-Ponty is necessarily written in the style of the latter. Merleau-Ponty was a professional philosopher training in the high French tradition, although thoroughly repudiating the Cartesian and rational emphasis of French thought and incorporating copious amounts of Hegel and other German idealists, who, like Marx but in a very different way, he inverted and materialized. Nietzsche, as we too often forget, was not a professional philosopher, but a professional philologist, and although he knew the Greek tradition thoroughly he knew it as a lover of words, not as someone who, however rigorously, uses words to delineate concepts. The later Nietzsche ardently, if a tad hyperbolically, put the French on a pedestal, as if to tweak German nationalism by that but Merleau-Ponty is no one’s lapidary aphorist, and, because of the influences mentioned above, often has a dense, turgid, Teutonic feel to him. One also feels personal differences (Nietzsche’s sex life was both untheorized and unrealized, Merleau-Ponty’s, perhaps too theorized, and almost certainly too realized) and divergences of background (Nietzsche a lapsed Lutheran, Merleau-Ponty a never-too-lapsed Catholic) obtrude to make the two thinkers different enough that one has to; ‘host’ the book even if both are equally its subjects. Chouraqui has quite evidently placed Merleau-Ponty in the position of; 'host'.
Nonetheless he convinces his reader that the two philosophers share an agenda, in opposition to absolute truth-claims and to truth as apprehension in favor of truth as “incorporation” (73). As Chouraqui nimbly explains, incorporation may seem like a seamless transference of the soul’s properties to the body, but in fact can have more discontinuous and even violent aspects, as in the act of being ingested consumed eaten. Inspiration is at, once a form of consumption and of appropriation; and it is the philosopher’s task, since we ingest so many ideas anyway, to emphasize that which is good ‘food”, that is to say truth: and that which is not, which is to say “error.” This is complicated in that obviously once one is within either of these thinkers there is no categorical way to divide truth from error; it becomes, at best, a gut feeling.
Nietzsche relies on an alert “self-becoming” (98) to produce a "strong human" capable of exercising thus gut feeling. Importantly, Chouraqui places just the right sort of rhetorical checks on a potentially vulgar voluntarism here, not only using the female pronoun to designate the putative strong human, as if to ward off vulgar-Nietzschean machismo, but stating that she is a “means responsible for an adequate management of the energy available in the world” (102) This is far more of a bureaucratic than charismatic description fitting more to a moderate Labor government than an ecstatic affirmation of Carl Schmitt-style decisionism, and this sort of social democratic haleine is just what Nietzsche needs, the strong human must also be sick, precisely because that vulnerability give she the prudence and discretion to separate, from all the accumulated detritus we incorporate, the good from the bad.
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This new translation of Nietzsche’s magnum opus is by far the best available in the English language. It should find its way to the desk of all students who do not have access to the original German.
Every student of Nietzsche in the Anglophone world should read this book. It is a most able treatment of a much-ignored and much-misunderstood topic close to the very heart of the writings of this seminal thinker.
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