Babette Babich

Crisis and Twilight in Martin Heidegger’s “Nietzsche’s Word ‘God is Dead’”

“We show respect for a thinker only when we think.”

Martin Heidegger

1 Edmund Husserl’s The Crisis of European Sciences and Friedrich Nietzsche on “Science as Question-Worthy”

Edmund Husserl published a text in 1936 that continues to challenge Husserlians and philosophers of science alike: The Crisis of European Science and Transcendental Philosophy (Husserl 1936; Husserl 1970). Part of a larger, unfinished project, along with a briefer version given as a lecture in Vienna in 1935, there are challenges concerning its reception. For Husserl began with a paradox, thus the so-named “crisis” in his Prague lecture, asking with his first section title, “Is there, in view of their constant successes, really a crisis of the sciences?” (Husserl 1970, 3) As Husserl explained, the very notion indicates nothing less than that its genuinely scientific character, the whole manner in which science has set its task and developed a methodology, qua science, has become questionable [“fraglich geworden ist”] (Husserl 1970, 3; Husserl 1936, 80). The point Husserl makes recalls Nietzsche’s auto-critical reflections on his first book, explicitly problematizing science as science.¹ There, Nietzsche claimed a certain priority in 1886, as he had articulated “a new problem: today I would say that it was the problem of science itself—science conceived for the first time as problematic, as question-worthy [fragwürdig]” (Nietzsche 1980, vol. 1, 13). At issue is radical questioning, precisely critical as “the problem of science cannot be cognized on the foundation of science—” [“das Problem der Wissenschaft kann nicht auf dem Boden der Wissenschaft erkannt warden —”] (Nietzsche 1980, vol. 1, 13).

Nietzsche’s declaration of the “problem of science as “question-worthy” does not merely accord with Husserl’s question, but for his part, quite as reflexively as Nietzsche, Husserl points the question, addressing it to “we ourselves, we philosophers of the present—what can and must reflections of the sort we have just carried out mean for us?” (Husserl 1970, 16). There is more to be sure and the parallel arguably continues as Husserl also invokes Max Weber’s “Science as Vocation,” (17) likewise as foundational and, so some have argued, as Nietzschean, and Husserl cites Nietzsche’s “‘Good Europeans’” explicitly (299). Here Husserl also insists on the critical focus of mathematics (and David Hilbert’s imperative for mathematics and universal knowledge: “We must know— we will know.”; see for discussion Babich 2010, 266), as Husserl makes clear in his next section: “The Origin of the New Idea of the Universality of Science in the Reshaping of Mathematics” (Husserl 1970, 21; see Tieszen 2005). Arguably, Husserl raises Nietzsche’s critical questions in his Vienna lecture including Nietzsche’s concept metaphor of the cultural physician, explaining that “The European nations are sick; Europe itself, it is said, is in crisis.” (Husserl 1970, 270) Husserl’s language in turn resonates with Heidegger’s reflections in his 1938 “The Age of World Picture” (Heidegger 2002, 57–85), in his 1943 “Nietzsche’s Word ’God is Dead’,”² and in “The Danger” in his 1949 Insight into That Which Is (Heidegger 1994).

For Husserl,

Europe’s greatest danger is weariness. If we struggle against this greatest of all dangers as “good Europeans” with the sort of courage that does not fear even an infinite struggle, then out of the destructive blaze of a lack of faith, the smouldering fire of despair over the West’s mission for humanity, the ashes of great weariness, will rise up the phoenix of new life-inwardness and spiritualization as the pledge of a great and distant future for humanity: for the spirit alone is immortal. (Husserl 1970, 299)

Today we worry about those Husserl counts out of the collectivity of his “Europeans,” those not properly European (“Eskimos or Indians presented as curiosities at a fair, [or] the Gypsies who constantly wander about Europe” [Husserl 1970, 273]) as with Nietzsche’s own “good Europeans.” Indeed, Husserl raises the question of the growing uniformity of the “theoretical attitude” (Husserl 1970, 282 f.), i. e., the scientific attitude, towards a “supranationality,” writing: “Within European civilization, philosophy has constantly to exercise its function as one which is archontic for the civilization as a whole.” (Husserl 1970, 289) At the same time, and relevant for any reading of Heidegger’s “Nietzsche’s Word ‘God is Dead’,” most Nietzscheans sidestep the issues Husserl raises as they sidestep reading Nietzsche in connection with either science or epistemology, in spite of Nietzsche’s life-long insistence on science and the question of knowing (see Babich 2021b). I already cited Nietzsche’s critical declaration of the theme of his first book; subsequently, Nietzsche argued that science would have to be regarded as the “latest and noblest form” (Nietzsche 1980, vol. 5, 396–397) of the traditionally theistic “ascetic ideal,” having replaced an outdated faith in higher values or deity with a “faith in truth” qua “desire to halt before the factual, the factum brutum” (Nietzsche 1980, vol. 5, 399), reminding the reader that both science and the ascetic ideal “stand on a single foundation” (Nietzsche 1980, vol. 5, 402). Connecting Nietzsche and Husserl is not without precedent (see Boehm 1962 and 1968 and Schmid 1999, particularly 161).

Although Nietzsche is not commonly read on the crisis of foundations just this question was his question, as he writes with reference to Kant in The Gay Science, here to quote the section that serves as the focus of Heidegger’s essay,

Those thinkers, in whom all stars move in circular orbits, are not the deepest; he who looks into himself as into an immense universe and who bears milky ways [Milchstraßen] within himself, also knows how irregular all Milky Ways are; they lead to the chaos and labyrinth of existence. (The Gay Science, §322)

Nietzsche who sent his work to Ernst Mach for commendation, was concerned with cosmology and the foundations of logic (Babich 2021b), reflecting on the problems of (the “scientificity” of ) scientific philology. In The Gay Science, Nietzsche raises more general questions concerning logic, causation, and cosmology preparatory to his reflections in “Der tolle Mensch” [“The Madman”] (The Gay Science, §125). It may be argued that The Gay Science reprises Nietzsche’s first book on tragedy, thematizing the reflexive contradiction of science at its own limits as a study of aesthetic science and the science of history at its inception.

That Heidegger engages Husserl is impossible to contravene, although scholars pointing to thetic differences between them have concluded the matter by setting that engagement out of consideration and arguing only one perspective or the other, perhaps for simplicity’s sake. The question of crisis, the issue of foundations and nihilism connects Heidegger’s conclusions with respect to reason and science to Husserl’s Crisis and inasmuch as Nietzsche is a common factor, it is worth looking at Nietzsche’s Twilight of the Idols as this text plays in Husserl’s study, as well as Heidegger’s “Nietzsche’s Word ‘God is Dead’,” a crucial role.

How is this “word” related to science and knowing, objectivizing the world? Isn’t atheism what is at issue in the statement, the claim, the word “God is dead”? I noted the date of Heidegger’s lecture (1943) to contextualize Heidegger’s ongoing project. The concern would seem obvious enough: a matter of nihilism or, as we note below, “Lebensraum” or “will to power” or the “Übermensch” precisely as themes uttered in a Nazi era. These are the themes, but reading them via Heidegger makes them problematic beyond the now routine observation that Heidegger engages Nietzsche more than any other figure in the philosophical tradition. The trouble with counting nominal mentions is that Heidegger’s focus on Nietzsche has been debated both on the side of so-called Heideggerians and on the side of (in the English-speaking context increasingly and not less in German, French and Italian scholarship, typically) “analytic” Nietzscheans. The debate itself is problematic which is why it is important to distinguish analytic and supposedly “continental” readings. What is certain is that Heideggerian scholars reading Heidegger’s frequent denigrations of Nietzsche’s work take Heidegger very much at his word regarding Nietzsche as the last metaphysician, and to this extent tend to find his ongoing attention to Nietzsche perplexing.

2 Who is Heidegger’s Nietzsche?

The “who”-form of the question is indebted to Heidegger’s reading of Nietzsche. When it comes to Zarathustra the name has world-historical relevance and is thus different from the distinction most scholars make when they associate a name with a certain historical tradition or philosophical epoch (notably, as Nietzsche names Plato and Kant in his short “How the ‘True World’ Became a Fable”), and, as Heidegger says, differentially, “a metaphysics can be named after a thinker.” (GA 5, 205 {sic, 209}/157) Heidegger explains that this is no matter of “personality,” properly speaking: as “the destiny of being makes its way over beings in abrupt epochs of truth.” (GA 5, 206 {sic, 210}/157)

If this is how Heidegger understands Nietzsche in connection with “metaphysics,” Heidegger does not seem to read a conventional Nietzsche, that is the Nietzsche Nietzsche scholars (or scholars in general) assume themselves to know. Thus we may recall Bernd Magnus’s closing footnote quip to his introduction to Karl Löwith’s book on eternal recurrence/return (Wiederkunft/Wiederkehr) (Magnus 1997, XI), an introduction that does the profession of Anglophone philosophy a disservice as Magnus blames the subset he here names the “continental” theorists for the lateness of a translation of a book after more than sixty years, and which Magnus had already drawn for the sake of his own study of amor fati (Magnus 1970). In hindsight, Magnus errs spectacularly as he himself reflects, given his own “unconscious and unwitting” correspondence with Löwith, as the Anglophone tradition manages to be derelict all by itself, no need for help from the continental contingent, when it comes to translating European or indeed non-European philosophers. In his closing footnote, Magnus, claiming a certain appreciation for Heidegger’s Nietzsche interpretation, quotes another reader criticizing Heidegger’s Kant, following Christ’s Caesarean division, dismissing an entire interpretive enterprise, the lot of it: bad Kant, bad Nietzsche, good Heidegger. Thereby the commentator tells the reader what to think of Heidegger. In this way, Magnus’ introduction to his Heidegger’s Metahistory of Philosophy had already opted for the philosophical tradition contra Heidegger, claiming that “Heidegger’s reading of the tradition as in the case of Hegel, sheds more light on the author than on the past.” (Magnus 1970, XIII)

As in many claims of this kind, this assertion lacks both context and argument. In her review of Magnus’s book, Elizabeth Hirsch notes that although Heidegger’s readings of other philosophers can surely be challenged, she has “rarely” had occasion to encounter, as she writes, such a regrettable combination of lack of familiarity with Heidegger’s writings and severe criticism not only of his views, but of his scholarship. For Magnus, Heidegger’s interpretation of Nietzsche is “guided by no conventional scholarship” and “his assessment of the history of metaphysics depends to a marked degree upon a partial reading of Plato and Aristotle” (Magnus 1970, XI f.). Hirsch is correct as Magnus twice claims that Heidegger “inaccurately interprets his own Being and Time” (Magnus 1970, 86; 90). Magnus sees the later Heidegger’s distortion of his first major book in the fact that he “is anxious to free Being from Dasein, from beings” (Magnus 1970, 86; Hirsch 1973).

Reviews are a thankless task, and they are rarely read, but Hirsch is worth reading if only to counter the impact Magnus continues to have on Nietzsche and Heidegger scholarship.

Nietzsche had thematized the question of the scientific status of the Homer problem in his inaugural lecture in Basel and thereby of the discipline of philology precisely as historical science quite in terms of its foundations and methodology and thereby the problem of tradition as such, a point he retrieves in his Untimely Meditations on “The Use and Disadvantage of History for Life,” quite as Heidegger also reflects on this text (Heidegger 2016).³ I emphasize this commonly cited reservation vis-à-vis Heidegger and the philosophical tradition, and it is worth recalling Dominique Janicaud’s reflective (and very Nietzschean) observation that “the act of transmission tells us almost nothing about Tradition.” (Janicaud 1997, 61) This may illuminate some of the limitations to which Hirsh adverts, but what is important to note is that the work Magnus does, the working efficacy of his claim, is accomplished not by argument (Hirsch is not wrong), but by the rhetoric or framing of his claim. Thus, others make similar points independently (cf. Haar 1996), such that be it Hölderlin (for high church Heidegger) or classically in the case of Kant or Descartes or, most conventionally, Aristotle, we can be informed that all Heidegger ever does is Heidegger, especially when it comes to Nietzsche. Heidegger’s concern is with his own philosophic project. This judgment has a good conscience, as Heidegger tells us that the history of philosophy has failed to raise the Being question and thus and above all failed to think “what is” other than as “Seiendes” (cf. GA 79), as he writes in “Nietzsche’s Word ‘God is Dead’,” telling us that this specifically modern “self-assertion” belongs to the “metaphysics of subjectness [Subjektität]” (GA 5, 239/88 {OtBT, 178}).

For their part, Nietzsche scholars miss the Nietzsche they know reading Heidegger. Citing the texts they know, Heidegger seems to be talking past them. This is true of “Who is Nietzsche’s Zarathustra?” as of the Nietzsche lectures which defy routine Nietzsche scholarship and philosophical and philological scholarship in general by focusing not on the published works as such or choosing between early, “middle,” or late works, but the unpublished works.

Although Heidegger’s “Nietzsche’s Word ‘God is Dead’” is launched from a reading of a particular section of The Gay Science, interpolated with reference to the second book of Thus Spoke Zarathustra (which first “book for all and none” appeared quite, as Heidegger also says, a year after Nietzsche published the first version of The Gay Science in 1882), the 1886, second edition of The Gay Science with its five books and appendix, Lieder des Prinzen Vogelfrei does not rate a mention any more than the later, third book of Zarathustra (the fourth book being its own problem). There is clearly more going on in Heidegger’s text as the reference to nihilism, but also the will to power and the preservation-enhancement conditions of life in addition to “subjectness” whereby the human being “rises up within the subjectity of beings into the subjectivity of his essence,” that is “absolute objectifying,” and “the battle for mastery over the earth [Erdherrschaft]” (GA 5, 252/191 {sic, 192} [2002]), the Übermensch.

3 Nietzsche’s Twilight of the Idols and Heidegger’s “Nietzsche’s Word ‘God is Dead’”

Heidegger’s reading of Nietzsche’s Twilight of the Idols resonates both in the title and the theme of “Nietzsche’s Word ‘God is Dead’,” to the point of the issue of science (see Babich 2014). Although nearly without explicit reference, Heidegger does tell us at the outset that “Nietzsche himself interprets the course of Western history metaphysically, namely as the advent and development of nihilism.” (GA 5, 206 {sic, 210}/158 [2002]) And in his 1936/1937 Nietzsche lecture course, “The Will to Power as Art” [“Der Wille zur Macht als Kunst”], featuring an epigraph concerning the “experience” of thinking Nietzsche, “that life might be an experiment of the knower—” [“daß das Leben ein Experiment des Erkennenden sein dürfe –”] (GA 6.1, 7XXX), Heidegger glosses the six sections of the “history of Platonism,” (in his Twilight of the Idols) section by section (Heidegger 1961, 235–240 {N1, 203}).

With respect to Husserl as I have already noted above, scholars underline that it is not “known” whether Heidegger knew the Crisis. Thus, Husserl experts—Dermot Moran being only the most recent (Moran 2012, 266)—claim that Heidegger could not have, would not have been aware of Husserl’s text. My argument that these two texts are parallel does not seek to reduce one to the other or claim derivative “influence.” Above, I note points of contact between Husserl and Nietzsche, and to this extent, as Boehm argues, directly or convergently, Husserl’s crisis influences Heidegger’s Holzwege essay. At the same time, what is problematic for those who know Heidegger is that his preoccupation with Nietzsche is gainsaid on his own terms. Heidegger seems to return to Nietzsche as if the encounter were the scene of a trauma or a word spoken in a space that left him waiting for an answer, a reply, some completion or resolution. Thus Hans-Georg Gadamer could reprise a comment he had heard from Heidegger’s son, as an utterance repeated during Heidegger’s final days, as if musing on damage done: “Nietzsche broke/ruined/destroyed me.” [“Nietzsche hat mich kaputt gemacht.”] (Gadamer 1996, 19).

I here have used as many different renderings of kaputt, arguably one of the least-challenging words to render from German into English where one can even, colloquially, onomatopoietically, leave the term in German and have it be understood, as the prominent Heidegger scholar, William Richardson S. (1920–2016) protested that it barely meant anything at all for Heidegger. Richardson had a point: like “Rosebud” in Orson Welles’ 1941 filmic masterpiece Citizen Kane, a film dedicated to the concept of “the” magnum opus as such, the phrase, “Nietzsche hat mich kaputt gemacht,” is gnomic. More crucial here is a philosophically gnomic phrase or chestnut: How does Heidegger read Nietzsche’s word “God is Dead”? We know the God-is-Dead phrase, blazoned, as it is, on teacups and T-shirts and even, to celebrate the so-called “Death of God” theologian, Thomas J. J. Altizer (1927–2018), on the cover of Time Magazine. A gnomic reading is nothing if it does not begin by pointing to the most obvious, and this is how Heidegger begins, repeating everyone’s everyday knowledge of what such a saying has to mean, telling us the locus in the Nietzschean text—The Gay Science, §125—but also tracing it to Hegel’s and Pascal’s articulations of the same claim. The point, as Heidegger, thinker of Dasein as “lieutenant of the nothing,” exemplifies the claim that “Nietzsche’s thinking sees itself as belonging under the heading nihilism.” (GA 5, 208 {sic, 212}/57 {OtBT, 160}) Just this is the problem for Heidegger in that it tends to be parsed as an assessment of Nietzsche’s interior life qua believer/unbeliever:

One could suppose that the pronouncement “God is dead” expresses an opinion of Nietzsche the atheist and is accordingly only a personal attitude and therefore one-sided, and for that reason also easily refutable through the observation that today everywhere many men seek out the houses of God and endure hardships out of a trust in God as defined by Christianity. (GA 5, 208–209 {sic, 213}/57)

At issue, as Heidegger’s text continues, is more Platonism than Christianity. This does not mean that it is Heidegger’s claim that Nietzsche is not talking about the Christian God, but and much rather, and this is Nietzsche’s point in his Twilight of the Idols, “How the ‘True World’ Became a Fable,” that the terms

are used to designate the suprasensory world in general. God is the name for the realm of Ideas and ideals. This realm of the suprasensory has been considered since Plato, or more strictly since the late Greek and Christian interpretation of Platonic philosophy, to be the true and genuinely real world (GA 5, 212 {sic, 216}/61)

Heidegger continues his gloss, uncited as such, of Nietzsche’s short “history of an illusion” (the point is overdetermined in context if I am justified in reading this in tandem with Husserl’s The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology), in contrast to the Platonic suprasensory: “the sensory world is only the world down here, the changeable, and therefore the merely apparent unreal world.” (GA 5, 212/61) As Heidegger here defends his diagnostic reading of Nietzsche as last metaphysician, via Kant as we have already seen that Nietzsche thematizes Kant from the start and which same Kant is also the midpoint of Nietzsche’s short history,

The world down here is the vale of tears [Jammertal] in contrast to the mountain of everlasting bliss in the beyond. If, as still happens in Kant, we name the sensory world the physical in the broader sense, then the suprasensory world is the metaphysical world. (GA 5, 212 {sic, 216}/61)

Thus, Heidegger sets Nietzsche, as Nietzsche sets himself, in “opposition to Platonism.” Today, in the epoch of what Husserl names the specifically “European” sciences, we read: that, what had been the flight from the world into the metaphysical, Nietzsche’s “true world,” Christian values, has been replaced by “historical progress.” [“Die Weltflucht ins Übersinnliche wird ersetzt durch den historischen Fortschritt”] (GA 5, 216 {sic 220}/64) Here, quite apart from Heidegger’s complex discussion of Paul and Christianity and political power, we see the Heideggerian move par excellence as a reading of Nietzsche’s Twilight of the Idols. This is Nietzsche’s signature inversion, the heart or mechanism of the slave revolt in values, “a mere countermovement necessarily remains, as does everything ‘anti,’ held fast in the essence of that against which it moves.” (GA 5, 213 {sic, 217}/61)

Heidegger explains this in and on his own terms as “the mystery of Being itself,” a “mystery unthought because it withdraws.” (GA 5, 260 {sic, 265}/110) For Heidegger, and here his claim turns on itself as he writes: “Metaphysics is an epoch”—the term is phenomenological and the gloss tells us so: “A self-withholding” – “of the history of Being itself. But in its essence metaphysics is nihilism. The essence of nihilism belongs to that history as which Being itself comes to presence. (GA 5, 261/110) In this sense the focus on “the” nothing is crucial: “Nihilism means: Nothing is befalling everything and in every respect” and thereby “the essence of nihilism consists in the fact that Nothing is befalling Being itself.” (GA 5, 261/110 f.) Here, again, Nietzsche’s short history is crucial as Heidegger explains that “‘Nothing’ means here: absence of a suprasensory, obligatory world. Nihilism, ‘the most uncanny of all guests’, is standing at the door.” (GA 5, 213 {217}/61 f.)

It matters to read Husserl’s The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology, which Husserl had been working on, we are told, in 1934, but which appears in 1936, the same year, so Heidegger tells his reader (GA 5, 369) that goes back to material reflections he had begun in the same year with his Freiburg Nietzsche lectures. If nothing else, the guiding thread of Heidegger’s lecture can begin to make more sense. Thus, Heidegger reads Nietzsche as phenomenologically and critically as the urgency of the times, the “situation” dictates.

Heidegger relates a standard interpretation of nihilism, of “values” devaluing themselves, and of the will to power which is said to be, as Heidegger notes, and here the year from which this text dates makes this observation ominous, as Heidegger writes—and in our own age of “pandemic” and war, we also understand the reference, “What power means, everyone knows from everyday experience as the exercise of dominion and force.” [“Was Macht bedeutet, kennt jeder aus der alltäglichen Erfahrung als die Ausübung von Herrschaft und Gewalt.”] (Heidegger GA 5, 228 {sic, 232}). The argument is standard when we read Heidegger (or Plato for that matter), we all of us already know, or take ourselves to know, from direct acquaintance, just what power is about. When we read Carl Schmitt on the sovereign exception, this is also clear. Is there any challenge to understanding what Nietzsche means by will to power?

Here Heidegger immediately reads such talk of “will to power” in terms of measure and measuring, calculation, ratio, or reason, in correspondence with a “’Zahl- und Maß-Skala’,” as Heidegger quotes Nietzsche’s own Will to Power with respect to “the scales of number and measure” (GA 5, 223 {sic, 228}/71), quite as Patrick Heelan likewise argues with respect to Husserl and a hermeneutic-phenomenological philosophy of science (Heelan 1987; Heelan 2014), and thence for Heidegger here to Leibniz (GA 5, 226 {sic, 228}/171 [2002]). The same balance, as Boehm points out as Boehm foregrounds Leibniz, as Heidegger does, is also to be found at the start of Husserl’s Crisis.

Elsewhere I have emphasized that this parallel has been noted by Robert Sokolowski (Babich 2013, 133) who draws attention to Boehm’s emphasis on interpretation, Auffassung, with reference to Nietzsche: “Intentionality interprets sensations.” Where I focus on Nietzsche’s perspectivalism as a perspective, as it were, on points of view, or perspective (thus as distinguished from what most scholars call “perspectivism” as if this were his philosophical methodology), and where I contend, taking Ricoeur as point of departure with respect to exclusivity, that Nietzsche’s phenomenology arguably predates Husserl’s phenomenology, noting Nietzsche’s use of epoché (Babich 2019, 262–263) and that this same perspectivalism anticipates Husserl’s Abschattungen (Babich 2019, 263), the point Sokolowski makes, regarding Boehm and his Husserlian viewpoints, is arguably Nietzschean with regard to the co-relevance of apparent and “true” worlds. As Sokolowski argues (in good phenomenological fashion, that is, following Husserl), the problem with phenomena is to see them as true principles. In other words, they are not “merely appearances behind which a hidden reality exists, but they are the appearing reality itself with nothing behind it.” (Sokolowski 1971, 136 f.) As Boehm argues, it is the phenomenon of an interpretation of a sensible content in and through a “perception” (or point of view) that forms the crux of the Husserlian problem of the constitution of the object.

I argue that the reading Heidegger offers of “Nietzsche’s Word ‘God is Dead’” grows as much out of the Husserl of the Crisis as out of the then epoch, the long 19th century into the 20th, as Jean-Luc Nancy reminds us, when God seems very banausically to be dead (that is more than generically, as the precondition for redemption, in the absolute or Hegelian sense, as Heidegger recalls Hegel’s Faith and Knowledge (1802), but more specifically, as Nietzsche affirms, as Heidegger quotes him, “I believe in the ancient German saying: all gods must die.” (GA 5, 214/161 [2002]), the crux of the then-new Nazi world order, as we imagine (this is supposition) the time in which Heidegger is writing, the time when the values that make sense in the West as the highest values, would be devalued, leading to a new effort by a new regime with ambitions to change, to re-order the world, and so revalue values. Indeed, Heidegger speaks of life and not less in connection with life, of space for expansion as if that were a theme (as it was) for Germany in which he wrote. Thus Heidegger emphasized that “[t]he guaranteeing of space in which to live” [“Die Sicherung des Lebensraums”], for example, is never the goal for whatever is alive, but is “only a means to life-enhancement” [“nur ein Mittel zur Lebenssteigerung”]. (GA 5, 225 {sic, 229}/73) The point corresponds to Nietzsche’s understanding of abundance and expression as opposed to conservation/decadence. Thus,

Conversely, life that is enhanced heightens in turn its prior need to expand its space. But nowhere is enhancement possible where a stable reserve [“ein Bestand als gesichert”] is not already preserved as secure and in this way as capable of enhancement. (GA 5, 225/73)

Heidegger here foregrounds life and its inherent “complexity,” points more indebted than can be typically thought to his reading of Roux (as Wolfgang Müller-Lauter argues in a different context [Müller-Lauter 1978]) and contra stock associations with Nazi aspiration and policy.

In the case of Heidegger’s essay on Nietzsche’s word, the problem is not that he fails to let Nietzsche come to word—he quotes the entirety of The Gay Science, §125, connecting it with Nietzsche’s writings published and unpublished and connects it with the then-current situation complete with a reflection on “situation,” a term crucial for Adorno, whose critical theory is dependent on his engagement with Husserl as for Heidegger’s (and Husserl’s) student, Günther Anders. Crucially, we will be told that none of our assumptions concerning Nietzsche’s “God is dead,” hold, even as Heidegger offers an explication of nihilism, of nothingness, of the devaluation of the highest values.

“God is dead” characterizes the length of the long 19th century even prior to Nietzsche. We know, Heidegger says, that Hegel already says this for good Christian reasons. For Heidegger, and here we see the virtues of the analytic translation: the point is to think, interior to metaphysics as thus defined, “the essential relation of the truth of beings as such” (GA 5, 244 {sic, 248}/186 [2002]). This, however, Heidegger maintains, fails to be thought or even broached as a question and, owing to “the predominance of philosophical anthropology, it is utterly confused.” (GA 5, 244 {249}/186 [2002]) What in any case would be erroneous would be to conclude from this “that Nietzsche philosophized ’existentially.’ That he never did. But he did think metaphysically.” (GA 5, 244/186 [2002])

How Nietzsche thought metaphysically, Heidegger tells us, we readers are not advanced enough to think for our own part with any rigor, that is, as Nietzsche thought, citing the beautiful and gnomic aphorism from Beyond Good and Evil:

Around the hero, everything becomes a tragedy; around the demi-god, everything turns into a satyr play; and around God, everything becomes – what? maybe “world”? (GA 5, 249/186 [2002])

I have been arguing that more than § 125 from The Gay Science, as Heidegger cites this, that the reading Heidegger offers depends upon his reading of Nietzsche’s works, mostly, but not all the works of the Nachlass and, as I argue, including to Nietzsche’s Twilight of the Idols, the same text we have seen, also on Boehm’s reading, that Husserl arguably engages, as well one might were one interested, as Husserl was, in “’reason’ in philosophy” [“‘Vernunft’ in der Philosophie”], or the great errors of causality as Nietzsche will emphasize these, given Husserl’s attention to Hume’s “fictionalism.”

Here Heidegger seems to gloss Nietzsche’s summary declaration: “The suprasensory has become an unenduring product of the sensory. But by so disparaging [Herabsetzung] its antithesis, the sensory denies its own essence.” (GA 5 205 {sic, 209}, 157 [2002]) The movement is both Heideggerian and Husserlian, if Heidegger’s reading is Hegelian, sublating Nietzsche:

The deposition [Absetzung] of the suprasensory [Übersinnlichen] also excludes the sheerly sensory [Sinnliche] and with it the difference between the two. The deposing of the suprasensory ends in a “neither-nor” regarding the distinction between sensory (αἱσθητόν) and non-sensory (νοητόν). It ends in the senseless. (GA 5 205/157 [2002], trans. altered)

Tracking the metaphysical trajectory leading from Plato to the death of God and beyond, this is the peripety of reason in the Twilight of the Idols and thus the reversal of the “true world” as ideal, as imperative: “consequently also non-consoling, -redemptive, -obligatory” (Nietzsche 1980, vol. 6, 80): in just this way, this is the “the end of the longest error.” (Nietzsche 1980, vol. 6, 80) Nietzsche’s method is questioning: what could be more Heideggerian, more Nietzschean, than asking: “The true world – we have abolished [abgeschafft]. What world is left? The apparent perhaps? … .” (Nietzsche 1980, vol. 6, 80) Here, in the last moment of Nietzsche’s “history of an error” an ellipsis, the text equivalent of a filmic dissolve, a flash forward: “But no! with the true world we have also abolished [abgeschafft] the apparent [die scheinbare].” (Nietzsche 1980, vol. 6, 81) The charge is a shock to the phenomenologist, if we may, as I have argued, read Nietzsche himself as phenomenologist: and how could it not be?

This text began by noting that Husserl begins his 1913 Ideas Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology claiming to offer a new science, “a science of phenomena,” (Husserl 1981, 1) acknowledging in the process the many ways, like being, in which phenomenology is said, here, according to a range of sciences. To this extent, Boehm’s question remains our question, Nietzsche repeats the word “abschaffen”—three times, first to point to the refutation of the ancient Greek ideal, the Platonic truth ideal, of the “true world” (Nietzsche 1980, vol. 6, 81)—and each time “he means something different” by it (Boehm 2013, 15). For Heidegger in his lecture course on “The Will to Power as Art,” everything shifts with Kant to “experience” i. e, “the mathematical scientific interpretation of the world.” (Heidegger 1961, 237) What Heidegger names Nietzsche’s “metaphysics,” both the “idea” that would set Nietzsche as metaphysician (par excellence just because the last of these), and his parsing of the “idea” in terms of “the advent and development of nihilism” (GA 5, 206 {210}/158 [2002]) would prove decisive for his and subsequent readings (and critiques) of Nietzsche. And as the epigraph to this paper repeats: for Heidegger to think, critique, and reflect on a thinker is to honor him:

To reflect on Nietzsche’s metaphysics does not mean that besides his ethics and his epistemology and his aesthetics, we also, and above all, deal with a metaphysics; rather it means: that we try to take Nietzsche seriously as a thinker. However, even for Nietzsche thinking means: to represent beings as beings. All metaphysical thinking is onto-logy or it is nothing at all. (GA 5, 206/158 [2002])

Heidegger’s reading continues to frustrate Nietzsche scholars who are concerned with Nietzsche’s thinking as they take it to be. Taking a thinker seriously for Heidegger entails that he recast that thinker’s thought on the terms of his question, the Being question. Thus inscribed, Nietzsche represents “beings as beings” (GA 5, 206 {210}/158 [2002]). The neatness of the claim excludes precisely what is essential for Heidegger, that is the Being question.

Heidegger foregrounds both the reticent and the small things that can fall beneath our notice: “This essential thinking, essential and therefore everywhere and in every respect only preparatory, proceeds in inconspicuousness [Unscheinbaren].” (GA 5, 206/158 [2002]) Here we read the thematic that can be seen as decisive for Holzwege as a whole:

Many are the paths still unknown. Yet each thinker is allotted only one way, his own, in the track of which he must go back and forth, time and again, in order at last to keep to it as his own, though it is never his, and say what he came to know on this one path. (GA 5, 207 {211}/158 [2002])

As Heidegger tells us here, Being and Time is “one such signpost.” (GA 5, XX/158 [2002]) As with Heidegger’s later reflections on techno-science as on what is called thinking, there is a reflection on the complex place of the sciences: “To think in the midst of the sciences means: to go past them without despising them.” (GA 5, 207 {211}/159 [2002]) The Being question likewise:

This thinking has been concerned constantly with one occurrence: that in the history of Western thinking, right from the beginning, beings have been thought in regard to being, but the truth of being has remained unthought. (GA 5, 208/159 [2002])

As Heidegger began by claiming that Nietzsche already conceived his thinking in the terms Heidegger himself uses, he can ascribe “nihilism” to Nietzsche as his own word. Plainly this is the force of what it is to say, with Hegel, once again, “God is dead.” But what does this mean? Heidegger disposes of standard readings, as we know from his stylistic hermeneutic-phenomenological method in Being and Time and elsewhere, particularly in the Nietzsche lectures, but also in the Contributions to Philosophy, before he proceeds:

One might suppose that “God is dead” expresses the belief of Nietzsche the atheist and hence that it is only a personal opinion and therefore biased, and thus also easily refuted by pointing out that everywhere today many people attend churches and endure hardships out of their Christian trust in God. (GA 5, 208–209 {sic, 213}/160 [2002])

Here Heidegger reflects on what can seem to be criticisms of his exposition from laypersons (or fellow scholars, as one may read his Contributions to Philosophy or Black Notebooks).

Thus, although the scholastic brief is clear, it contains the elements that alienate the reader: what is at stake is more than mere explication:

Not only must any commentary gather the substance from the text, it must also, imperceptibly and without being too insistent, add something of its own to it, from its substance. (GA 5, 209 {sic, 213}/160 [2002])

Reading this together with Gadamer’s Truth and Method points to the interpretive heart of Heidegger’s text-phenomenological hermeneutics: “A proper commentary, however, never understands the text better than its author understood it, though it certainly understands it differently [wohl aber anders].” (GA 5, 209/160 [2002]) As Gadamer explains: “Not occasionally but always the meaning of a text goes beyond its author. That is why understanding is not merely a reproductive but always a productive attitude as well” (Gadamer 1975, 290; see for a discussion Babich 2021a).

Embedded in the commentary Heidegger tells us what he tells his students in his Nietzsche lecture courses, that the masterwork, the Will to Power Nachlaß, that was not to see the light of publication in Nietzsche’s lifetime, that, had it been published as such, would have made all the difference. Heidegger is unparalleled as a scholar of the text, he tells us, even if he undoes what he tells us, negating the assumed claim, as stated already above, but here we return to it more explicitly:

As a young man Nietzsche was already familiar with the disturbing thought of the death of a God and the mortality of the gods. […] At the end of his treatise Faith and Knowledge (1802), the young Hegel identifies the “feeling on which the religion of the modern age, rests—the feeling that God Himself is dead …” Hegel’s word thinks something different from what Nietzsche thinks in his. (GA 5, 210 {sic, 214}/161 [2002])

Negation notwithstanding, here Heidegger writes concerning Nietzsche’s “word” that Hegel had already said: the sentiment already highlighted the malaise of the modern era of science, that would be “European Science,” for us, we “good Europeans,” as we have seen that Husserl also takes over the phrase. Thus, this highlights a certain 19th century commonality, as Heidegger cites Plutarch’s remark, as cited by Pascal: “Le grand Pan est mort”, telling us that this is to be thought in the same context.

If Heidegger quotes the entirety of the section, and if Nietzsche’s word is important because it is to be read in a tiny novel of other words, a dramatic event, capturing antiquity and modernity and infinity in an aphorism, the palimpsest inscribed in Husserl’s text is an even tinier paratactic array: a short history of the move from the suprasensory to the sensory foregrounding the importance of the phenomen itself because, as Nietzsche says, no sooner have we deposed the true world than we realize and cannot but realize that along with that suprasensible domain we have also done away with the apparent. Nietzsche adds parentheses after every one of his six points, giving us “Midday, moment [Augenblick] of the shortest shadow; end of longest error; highpoint of humanity; INCIPIT ZARATHUSTRA.” (Nietzsche 1980, vol. 6, 81) Everything that Heidegger in “Nietzsche’s Word ‘God is Dead’” has to say about the Übermensch concerns this proclamation read as a stage “direction”—“Enter Zarathustra”—for a book written in three parts, for all and none, not too unlike Pascal’s declaration concerning the “great Pan.”

4 Conclusion

Heidegger reminds his readers of the challenge of thinking the Übermensch. No more than “Will to Power” means quite what one supposes it to mean, no more than the task of serving as advocate of Zarathustra, teacher of eternal return, prophet of nihilism, are we justified in simply assuming that what Nietzsche means by the Übermensch corresponds to an isolated exemplar of the human being in whom the abilities and purposes of humanity as ordinarily known are magnified and enhanced to “gigantic” proportions [“ins Riesige”] (GA 5, 248/96 {sic, 187}).

Boehm himself is clearly indebted to Heidegger where Heidegger writes, useful in reading between Nietzsche and Husserl phenomenologically: “in every veiling there already rules simultaneously an appearing.” (GA 5, 248/97 {sic, 188})

The same essential tension that had occupied Husserl has now for Heidegger a clear contour, and we can recognize the formula, as Heidegger will later reprise this in correspondence with Heisenberg:

The earth itself can show itself only an object of assault, an assault that, in human willing, establishes itself as unconditional objectification. Nature appears everywhere—because willed from out of the essence of Being—as object of technology. (GA 5, 251 {sic, 256}/100 {OtBP, 191})

Elsewhere I read Günther Anders who will expand on this beyond Heidegger where Heidegger is already prescient enough on the topic of the human as material resource, almost to the point of highlighting the human raw materials of the present day (Babich 2022, 130 f.), with new “vaccine” therapeutics and worldwide collection procedures (an incidental benefit of testing is or can be sampling [Babich 2021c]), writing that the Nietzsche who contends, as Husserl contends, that philosophy has and should have a specific, Husserl’s word was “archontic,” task, does not mean

that the struggle for unlimited exploitation of the earth as the sphere of raw materials and for the realistic utilization of “human material” [Menschenmaterials] in the service of the unconditional empowering of the will to power in its essence, would specifically have recourse to an appeal to philosophy. On the contrary it is to be conjectured that philosophy as the doctrine and image of culture will disappear […]. (GA 5, 252 {sic, 256}/101)

Where Heidegger refers to Nietzsche’s Twilight of the Idols is the reference to the “‘great noon’” (GA 5, 253/102) that is also a reference to Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, and his focus on science is also Nietzsche’s focus on science, as this latest or best version of the ascetic ideal comes to stand in the place of religion: “‘What did we do when we unchained the earth from its sun?’” (GA 5, 256/106). And we add that it is worth comparing Nietzsche’s The Gay Science, §125, and the third section of On the Genealogy of Morals, where Nietzsche emphasizes the same equation between metaphysics and science that Heidegger foregrounds, telling us:

It is however still a metaphysical faith on which our faith in science depends—likewise we knowers of today, we godless and anti-metaphysicians, we, too, still take our flame from the same fire ignited by a faith thousands of years old, the Christian faith that was also Plato’s, that God is truth, that truth is divine […]. (Nietzsche 1980, vol. 5, 400 f.)

But the only thing that might count today as deity are “errors blindness lies,” adding after asking what follows “if God turns out to be our longest lie?” (Nietzsche 1980, vol. 5, 401) Here the reference to Copernicus is also a reference to Galileo, “Since Copernicus, man seems to have gotten himself on an inclined plane—now he is slipping faster and faster away from the center into—what? Into nothingness?” (Nietzsche 1980, vol. 5, 404)

The next section includes “nihilism,” the expletive “Holy Anacreon” and the recommendation to kick, and his animus “contra the speculators in Idealism, the Anti-Semites who roll their eyes, Christian-Aryan-bourgeois style [christlicharisch-biedermännisch]” (Nietzsche 1980, vol. 5, 407), raising not only the “narrow principle of ’Deutschland, Deutschland über alles’,” but also Europe as such, “inventive above all in means of excitation [Erregungsmitteln]” (Nietzsche 1980, vol. 5, 408). We have thus gone through all of Heidegger’s themes, including and emphasizing “The Will to Power, Attempt at a Revaluation of all Values” (Nietzsche 1980, vol. 5, 409) and Husserl’s “good European” [“guter Europäer”], complete with the language of being, “heir to Europe’s longest and bravest self-overcoming.” (Nietzsche 1980, vol. 5, 410; see Husserl 1970, 17; 299)

Elsewhere I have shown that for Nietzsche the connection between science and Christianity is essential rather than oppositional (see Babich 2020, 133–156; cf. Valadier 1999 and the essays on Nietzsche’s Antichrist in Enders 2014). “Nothingness,” what Heidegger names nihilism, is science taken to it ultimate consequences, “the shortest route to—the old ideal.” (Nietzsche 1980, vol. 5, 404) All science, Nietzsche says, not only “astronomy,” which reminded Kant of his “unimportance.” (Nietzsche 1980, vol. 5, 404; see Babich 2021b) And not less and including the ultimate inversion, and triumph of that very same “old” ideal: “There is no knowledge, consequently—there is a God: what a new elegantia syllogismi!” (Nietzsche 1980, vol. 5, 409) And, in 1956, Günther Anders develops Nietzsche’s negative theological point in a chapter entitled “Being without Time” in his Antiquatedness of Humanity: “God’s absence itself is made into a proof of his being.” (cited in Babich 2022, 175)

Thereby, as Heidegger explains, “the doing away” (let us not forget Boehm’s focus on “abschaffen”):

— with that which is in itself, i. e., the killing of God, is accomplished in the making secure of the constant reserve by means of which the human being makes secure for himself material, bodily, psychic, and spiritual resources, and this for the sake of his own security, which wills dominion over what ever is—as the potentially objective—in order to correspond to the Being of whatever is, to the will to power. (GA 5, 257/107)

The trouble for Heidegger is “the mystery of Being itself” (GA 5, 260 {sic, 265}/110 {198}), a mystery as already cited, “unthought because withheld [weil vorenthalten].” I emphasize the commonality of this trope, as Heidegger’s “mystery” entails, that we will need more than what might be achieved by restoring philosophy to its erstwhile position, as Kant proposed at the outset of his critical philosophy (forbear to Husserl’s “archontic”), as “the Queen of all the sciences.” (Kant 2003, 7)

Nietzsche’s madman, Heidegger says, is “de-ranged [ver-rückt]” (GA 5, 262 {}/111 {199}). Out of line in this fashion, the madman comes to teach those in the marketplace, as Nietzsche points out in The Gay Science, that they have done this to themselves. For Heidegger:

They no longer seek because they no longer think. Those standing about in the marketplace have abolished thinking and replaced it with idle talk that scents nihilism in every place in which it supposes its own opinion to be endangered. (GA 5, 262 {267}/112 {199})

One cannot imagine a word more relevant to the politics of the current moment, and we may yet come to understand Heidegger when he says in conclusion: “Thinking begins only when we have come to know that reason, glorified for centuries, is the most stiff-necked adversary of thought.” (GA 5, 263 {sic, 267}/112 {OtBT 199})

1 At the same time, Nietzsche also claimed “unimpeachable discoveries” in his own field (see for a discussion Babich 2020).

2 I will cite here, for hermeneutic reasons, two different translations of Heidegger’s essay: Heidegger 1970 and the analytic version, which affirms itself as a “fresh and accurate new translation,” Heidegger 2002.

3 See the discussions in the recent Black Notebooks issue of the Journal of the British Society for Phenomenology, beginning with Haase 2020 and my own contribution.

4 Consider, by contrast, Nietzsche source scholarship, a robust industry founded on the conviction that any text with which Nietzsche had even a suspected acquaintance from the Egyptian Book of the Dead to Dostoevsky and Stirner, Emerson and Thoreau, etc., might have been an original source for his thinking.

5 Sokolowski 1996, 56; see Boehm 1968, 217–236. For this phenomenological Nietzsche, as Boehm argues, “phenomenological constitution […] is essentially interpretation” (Boehm 2013, 19). And see, on Husserl and Heidegger at the methodological origin of phenomenology, McDonnell 2018.

6 A translation is included in Boublil 2013, as I recall encouraging this inclusion at the original conference, but the translation omitted what can seem to have been the very Husserlian Leitmotif of Boehm’s essay: his title “Deux points de vue,” using only the subtitle Boehm uses in his subsequent, 1968 two volume collection of articles (Boehm 1968).

7 See Nancy 2017. Nancy also points, as Heidegger does, to Schelling in his definition of critique/crisis.

8 The author wishes to thank the editor Holger Zaborowski for his suggestions and the late Tracy Strong (1943–2022) for discussion.


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Babette Babich - Crisis and Twilight in Martin Heidegger’s “Nietzsche’s Word ‘God is Dead’”
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