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On the Advantage and Disadvantage of History…

On the Advantage and Disadvantage of History for Life (1874)

by Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche

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More straightforward in its argument than Beyond Good and Evil, and thus easier to read, in my opinion. ( )
  Audacity88 | Feb 7, 2014 |

One star's a bit harsh. Popular history can still be understood in terms of the categories he comes up with here: all the biographies of Churchill and Reagan? Lifeless monumental history. The obsession with Americana and 'authentic,' 'simple' living? Lifeless antiquarianism. Post-colonial/post-structuralist/post-modernist history? Lifeless critical history.

But then, Nietzsche was harsh, and it's only fair to be harsh back.

He describes three types of historiography- 'monumental' history, which can either provide examples of greatness for the present, or refuse the possibility of greatness in the present; 'antiquarian' history, which can either make us comfortable in our own time and place by showing its historical context, or encourage us to live in the past and forsake the present; and 'critical' history, which criticises the past and attempts to create a new one for itself, or makes us ignore our own descent, leading to a conflict between our actual and our created pasts.
In the good versions (the former in my list), it is studied for the sake of 'life.' In the bad versions (the latter in my list), history is studied for the sake of itself, or for utilitarian ends. This leads to a people with weak personalities, which believes itself to be more just than other ages, is immature, leads to a melancholy belief that we are nothing more than the children of the great, irony and eventually the cynical inversion of this belief - that, rather, we are the great descendants of the weak.

That's the meat. It's surrounded by a bunch of rants against the late nineteenth century. I'm sure it's all very entertaining when you're young, but by the time you're working or a grad student you know pretty darn well that academics cut off from 'life' is a farce. You know that appeals to 'life' are more or less completely empty: what sort of life? What will you do with this life? And you probably have a hunch that life, whatever it is, might not even be possible.

So, what are we doing when we read Nietzsche's essay? First, we're engaging in monumental history against the present: lauding Nietzsche when we could, for instance, be reading about the crisis in health care, or the destruction of the environment, or the ongoing economic crisis. Second, we're engaging in an antiquarian history which is interested in the past for its own sake, since there's little in this book which isn't common knowledge these days. Third, it will probably encourage us to believe that we've left behind all the old, lifelessness of the nineteenth century when, of course, we've done nothing of the sort. By its own lights, this essay should not be read by the young. In Nietzsche's time history really was over-studied. Today it's all but ignored. Skip this and go straight to Hobsbawm's history of the long nineteenth century. ( )
  stillatim | Dec 29, 2013 |
Nietzsche on history. Harshest criticisms and exhortations against nihilism. ( )
  HadriantheBlind | Mar 30, 2013 |
Disappointingly uninteresting -- especially for Nietzsche. ( )
  bluedream | Jun 8, 2009 |
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» Add other authors (21 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzscheprimary authorall editionscalculated
Collins, AdrianTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kraft, JuliusIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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First words
"Moreover I hate everything which merely instructs me without increasing or directly quickening my activity." These are Goethe's words with which, as with a boldly expressed ceterum censeo, we may being our consideration of the worth and worthlessness of history.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Original German Title: Vom Nutzen und Nachteil der Historie für das Leben
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0023237309, Paperback)

73 pps. 2nd (revised) Edition - Aug. 1957

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:18:07 -0400)

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