Bibliographical Information

The precise origin of Nietzsche’s “lecture notes on rhetoric” is still a matter of scholarly debate, largely because there is no direct evidence linking these notes to a specific event in Nietzsche’s life. We do know, however, that Nietzsche, as a professor of philology at the University of Basil, taught a lecture course in the winter semester of 1872-73 on the history of Greek eloquence. Although this course was attended by only two students, Nietzsche planned to offer a second course on classical rhetoric in 1874; this course, however, was canceled due to lack of interest. “The Lecture Notes on Rhetoric” are believed to be the notes Nietzsche prepared for this course.

The bibliographical history of the lecture notes is sketched in Blair and Gilman’s Introduction to Friedrich Nietzsche on Rhetoric and Language. A more complete account of the difficulties in determining the time of writing appears in Lacoue-Labarthe and Nancy’s Présentation to “Rhétorique et language,” their French translation and annotation of the lecture notes (see Other Translations, below).

Standard Edition

“Rhetorik,” Gessamelte Werke, vol. V, Lectures, 1872–1876 (München: Musarion Verlag, 1922), 287–319.

English Translations

“Lecture Notes on Rhetoric,” trans. Carole Blair, Philosophy and Rhetoric 16 (1983): 94–129. Contains the first seven of 16 sections.

“Description of Ancient Rhetoric,” trans. Carole Blair and David J. Parent, Friedrich Nietzsche on Rhetoric and Language, ed. Sander L. Gilman (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989), 2–193. Bilingual edition; contains all 16 sections and includes “Outline of the History of Eloquence” as an appendix.

Other Translations

“Cours sur la rhétorique,” trans. Philippe Lacoue–Labarthe and Jean–Luc Nancy, Poetique 5 (1971):104–130. It is this French translation that establishes Nietzsche’s conception of rhetoric as an important feature in French “poststructuralist” thought and in the writings of American literary critics influenced by postmodernism, especially Paul de Man.

Selected Scholarship

Blair, Carole and Sander L. Gilman. “Nietzsche’s Lectures on Rhetoric: Reading a Rhetoric Rhetorically.” Introduction to Friedrich Nietzsche on Rhetoric and Language. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989. ix-xxvii.

Crawford, Claudia. “Nietzsche’s Notes for a Course on ‘Rhetoric’ and ‘On truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense.’” The Beginnings of Nietzsche’s Theory of Language. Berlin: de Gruyter, 1988. 199–220.

De Man, Paul. “Nietzsche’s Theory of Rhetoric.” Symposium 28 (1974): 33–51.Revised as “Rhetoric of Tropes (Nietzsche),”Allegories of Reading: Figural Lauguage in Rousseau, Nietzsche, Rilke, and Proust (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1979), 103-18.

Kofman, Sarah. “Nietzsche et la métaphore.” Poetique 5 (1971): 77–98.Revised and expanded as Nietzsche et la métaphore (Paris: Payot, 1972).English translation: Nietzsche and Metaphor, trans. Duncan Large (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1993).

Lacoue–Labarthe, Philippe. “Le détour (Nietzsche et la rhétorique).” Poetique 5 (1971): 53–76. Rpt. in Le sujet de la philosophie (Paris: Aubier–Flammarion, 1979). English translation: “The Detour,” trans. Gary M. Cole, in The Subject of Philosophy, ed Thomas Triezise (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993), 14-36. This essay is Lacoue-Labarthe’s scholarly contribution to the special issue of Poetique on Nietzsche.

Schrift, Alan. “Language, Metaphor, Rhetoric: Nietzsche’s Deconstruction of Epistemology.” Journal of the History Philosophy 24 (1986):. Revised version published as “Language, Metaphor, Rhetoric” in Nietzsche and the Question of Interpretation: Between Hermeneutics and Deconstruction. New York: Routledge, 1990, 123-43.

Biographical Notes

For a more complete chronology, click here: <http://www.mtsu.edu/~jcomas/nietzsche/chronology.html>

1844 - Born (15 Oct) in Röcken, Germany.

1849 - Death of his father, a Lutheran pastor, on July 30.

1850 - Family moves to Naumburg.

1858-64 - Attends boarding school at Schulpforta.

1864 - Studies classical philology at Bonn University.

1865- Continues studies at Leipzig and accidentally discovers Schopenhauer’s Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung (The World as Will and Representation) in a second-hand bookstore.

1868 - First meeting with Richard Wagner.

1869 - Professor extraordinarius of classical philology at the University of Basel, Switzerland.

Winter Semester 1869-70 - First lecture course on Pre-Platonic philosophy (no information survives).

1870 - Promoted to full professor. As a Swiss subject, volunteers as a medical orderly in the Franco-Prussian war and serves briefly with the Prussian forces. Returns to Basel in October, his health shattered.

1872 - Publication of Die Geburt der Tragödie aus dem Geist der Musik (The Birth of Tragedy out of the Spirit of Music), his first book.
Summer semester - Lecture course on Pre-Platonic philosophy.

1872-73 - Winter semester - Lecture course on “The History of Greek Eloquence” (attended by only two students). A manuscript believed to be the text of the lectures or based on the lectures has been translated as “The History of Greek Eloquence (1872-73),” trans. David J. Parent, Friedrich Nietzsche on Rhetoric and Language, ed and trans. Sander L. Gilman, Carole Blair, and David J. Parent (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989), 213-42.

1873 - Publication of the first two Unzeitgemässe Betrachtungen (Untimely Meditations): David Strauss, der Bekenner und Schrisftsteller (“David Strauss, the Confessor and Writer”) and Vom Nutzen und Nachteil der Historie für das Leben (“On the Uses and Disadvantages of History for Life”).
Spring - Writes Die Philosophie im tragischen Zeitalter der Griechen (“Philosophy in the Tragic Age of the Greeks”), based upon texts for a lecture course on Pre-Platonic philosophy.
Summer semester - Lecture course on Pre-Platonic philosophy.
Writes the unfinished manuscript Über Wahrheit und Lüge im aussermoralichen Sinne (“On the Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense”)

1873-74 - Prepares notes for a course of lectures on classical rhetoric for the summer semester of 1874; the course is not offered, presumably because of lack of student interest.


Reading Notes

I've included page references to both Blair's original translation in Rhetoric and Philosophy and to the expanded translation by Blair and Parent, “Description of Ancient Rhetoric” in Friedrich Nietzsche on Rhetoric and Language.

I.The Concept of Rhetoric (96-103; 3-15)

  1. N. opens his lectures not with a discussion on “the concept of rhetoric,” but by referring this concept to the context of its “extraordinary development.” What makes this development “extraordinary“? The development is a function of a context which he defines as “the specific differences between the ancients and moderns.” In what way does N. understand “the ancients” and “the moderns,” and what does he identify as “the specific differences” between them? And, more generally, why does he frame his lectures on ancient rhetoric with a portrait of modern intellectual culture?
  2. N. characterizes the moderns as disapproving of rhetoric, citing Locke’s An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1689). Why does N. cite Locke? In Locke’s epistemology, knowledge is a function of perception and the combination of simple ideas. Language is not directly related to knowledge; it is used to communicate knowledge. But because language is imperfect, care must be used: “By the Philosophical Use of Words, I mean such an use of them, as may serve to convey the precise Notions of Things, and to express, in general Propositions, certain and undoubted Truths, which the Mind may rest upon, and be satisfied with, in its search after true Knowledge” (III.9.§3). Thus, rhetoric (understood as the “abuse of words“; see III.10) is positioned in opposition to knowledge. Through this reference to Locke, then, N. characterizes the moderns as epistemologic, that is, as preoccupied with the project of securing certainty in knowledge.
  3. N. also characterizes the moderns as having developed “the feeling for what is true in itself” (96). But “true in itself” as opposed to what? As true within a context? or true for something?
  4. N. introduces another opposition to characterize the difference between the moderns and the ancients: “rhetoric arises among a people who still live in mythic images and who have not yet experienced the unqualified need of historical accuracy” (97). This opposition between a mythic culture and a historical culture is developed in The Birth of Tragedy:

    It is probable . . . that almost everyone, upon close examination, finds that the critical–historical spirit of our culture has so affected him that he can only make the former existence of myth credible to himself by means of scholarship, through intermediary abstraction. But without myth every culture loses the healthy natural power of its creativity: only a horizon defined by myths completes and unifies a whole cultural movement. Myth alone saves all the powers of the imagination and of the Apollinian dream from their aimless wanderings. The images of the myth have to be the unnoticed omnipresent demonic guardians, under whose care the young soul grows to maturity and whose signs help the man to interpret his life and struggles. Even the state knows no more powerful unwritten laws than the mythical foundation that guarantees its connection with religion and its growth from mythical notions. (Trans. Walter Kaufmann 135.)

II. The Division of Rhetoric and Eloquence (103-06; 15-20)

III. The Relation of the Rhetorical to Language (106-09; 21-26)

  1. N. takes issue with the belief that there is a “natural” language, that is, the use of a language that corresponds to reality. This belief is reinforced through the common–sense distinction between a “natural” use of language and an artistic (or rhetorical) use. Thus, the general question that is implied is, What is the nature of language? Nietzsche claims that there is no “natural” use of language, that language is not based on “that which is true, upon the essence of things” (107; 21). His argument refers to a disjuction between perception and linguistic representation, to the impossibility of accurate representation: “If completely accurate representation is to take place, should the material in which it is to be represented, above all, not be the same as that in which the soul works?” (107; 23) N. then claims that if language does not accurately represent reality, it must consist in “the manner in which we stand toward them, the pithanon [power of persuasion (plausibility; also a thing producing illusion)]” (107; 23): language is rhetoric, because it desires to convey only a doxa [opinion], not an epistêmê [knowledge]” (107; 23).
  2. N. claims that linguistic representation consists of tropic relations: “all words are tropes in themselves, and from the beginning. Instead of that which truly takes place, they present a sound image, which fades away with time: language never expresses something completely but displays only a characteristic which appears to be prominent to it [language]” (107; 23). N. identifies three kinds of tropes: synecdoche, metaphor, and metonymy.
  3. While individuals, in their responses to the world, create words, language is determined through social preference: “Language is created by the individual speech artist, but it is determined by the fact that the taste of many makes choices.”

IV. Purity, Clarity, and Appropriateness of the Elocutio (109-14; 27-37)

V. The Typical Speech in Relation to the Embellishment of Speech (114-17; 37-43)

VI. Modification of Purity (117-22; 43-51)

VII. Tropical Expression (122-27; 51-65)