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In his effort to show that truth and art always remain closely intertwined in Nietzsche, Richardson departs from many other interpreters. He contends that these two drives both remain vital to the liberatory project of realizing freedom qua self-selection. Richardson articulates three basic ways in which Nietzsche sees the task of “redesigning aesthetic experience to serve freedom as self selection”—(1) as recuperative, (2) as diagnostic, and (3) as creative. In the first case, art functions as a counter-stance to the will to truth and therefore allows a restorative respite from the rigorous expenditure of effort required by honesty. The play of aesthetic enjoyment thus allows for the recollection of one’s energies. In this way, Richardson holds that the aesthetic stance indirectly supports the project of truth.

The second role of aesthetic experience more directly relates to the epistemic project in that they reside at the heart of Nietzsche’s skepticism. Richardson points out that Nietzsche’s judgments about value are often expressed in aesthetic terms, especially in visceral and gastronomic language. For Nietzsche, the values of the herd are distasteful, nauseating, disgusting, and repulsive. In this sense, the aesthetic plays a critical epistemological role in diagnosing the sickness of the herd, and thus in gaining insight and distance from it.

The third role of aesthetic experience concerns the production of new values in order to facilitate the ongoing transition from critical insight to the lived incorporation of freedom. Richardson proposes that this creation of values is embodied in the creation of Nietzsche himself, the creation of his audience, and the creation of his artistic-philosophical works—a creation requiring both energy and discernment, that is, the recuperative and diagnostic dimensions of the aesthetic. In each case, the task of creation must discipline itself with respect to truth, albeit a deflated evolutionary conception of truth that is irreducibly local, historical, and perspectival. Hence, in the final pages of his book, Richardson summarizes his view on Nietzschean creation as a “move within self selection,” where this creativity remains “an activity that follows and values truths” (269).

Concluding Remarks

My guess is that some aficionados of Nietzsche will reject the very idea that Nietzsche entertains even a deflated notion of truth, as well as rejecting the corresponding work Richardson has done to ground Nietzsche’s thought within the context of evolutionary theory. Perhaps it is the formative role he played in many an adolescence, but whatever the reason, it is clear that a certain protectiveness, or even possessiveness, can make it difficult to revise some people’s “take” on Nietzsche, even when such a reconsideration is well warranted. This is clearly a mistake in this case, because there is a great deal to be learned from Richardson’s perceptive book. His reconstruction seeks to strengthen Nietzsche internally, that is, in ways that are largely amenable to Nietzsche’s own approach to philosophy, while addressing some contemporary philosophical concerns about Nietzsche along the way. While developing a systematic theoretical account may not have been Nietzsche’s own project, this does not mean that understanding how Nietzsche can be interpreted systematically should not be ours. This is also not to say that Richardson’s view is the only way of reading Nietzsche in a cogent way, but I do think that he provides one of the most compelling examples. To my mind, Richardson’s naturalism is particularly appealing, although I can again imagine that some may not see such a scientific naturalism as an appropriate hermeneutic touchstone when dealing with Nietzsche. And yet, Nietzsche’s own rejection of otherworldly thinking makes naturalism an obvious ally in his battle against metaphysics (hence, the Gay Science). Moreover, showing how Nietzsche’s thought can be consistent with, but not reducible to, contemporary biological and evolutionary thought strengthens the overall force of his thought.

Stepping back from specific issues of content for a moment, it is worth rehearsing some general impressions about other aspects of the text. Stylistically, Richardson’s writing is clear, even at its most technical moments, and avoids getting bogged down in unnecessary jargon. He simply has many genuinely insightful things to say, and thus he is never given to hiding behind rhetorical flamboyance and “hand waving.” At every turn, the text is extremely fair as it carefully entertains alternative views and readings. In many places, the book is explicitly self-conscious about the fact that Richardson’s interpretation challenges many received readings of Nietzsche. Indeed, this sensitivity may be the source of what I take to be one of the only weaknesses of Richardson’s book, albeit a minor fault. Since the book represents a relatively radical reconstruction of Nietzsche’s views, it seems to me that at times Richardson falls back on a less authoritative voice than he should. The result is that his sensitivity and care sometimes falls into an overly cautious and protective writing reminiscent of what one sees in dissertations, which also manifests itself in some unnecessary repetition and recapitulation. While his distinct lack of arrogance is certainly an enviable quality, the prose could benefit from a slightly stronger voice more appropriate to a scholar of Richardson’s stature and still avoid the conceit plaguing too much of today’s academic writing.

At a structural level, most readers will appreciate the fact that the bulk of the scholarly apparatus is contained in footnotes at the bottom of the page, which means that the flow of the text is not overburdened by direct quotations. At the same time, however, Richardson provides ample textual evidence in the footnotes to support his reading. One of the real strengths of his interpretation is that he cites evidence from across the Nietzschean corpus with emphasis on his “mature” position (from 1881 onward), rather than localizing his argument in a specific period or relying too heavily on the Nachlass.

In the final analysis, I strongly recommend Nietzsche’s New Darwinism. Although it may be too technical and dense to be of interest to casual readers of Nietzsche, one does not need to be a scholar of Nietzsche in order to appreciate his argument. Anyone that is serious about thinking through Nietzsche in a comprehensive way should read this book. Personally speaking, in a sea of commentaries on Nietzsche, it is simply one of the most valuable secondary sources on Nietzsche that I have read, and one that more than repays your investment in time and effort. Like Richardson’s earlier book, Nietzsche’s System (1996), Nietzsche’s New Darwinism represents a major work within American scholarship on Nietzsche.

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