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Nietzsche's Reading of Emerson. A Genetic Study

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A new perspective on Nietzsche

The intriguing connection between Nietzsche and Emerson has never been fully explored. A new study, based on the novel methodology of genetic criticism, has revealed important insight on this complex relationship.


German philosopher, poet and philologist Friedrich Nietzsche was influenced profoundly by the works of the noble American essayist, lecturer and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson, who led the transcendentalist movement in the 19th century. Although Emerson represents a principle inspiration for Nietzsche’s works, the relatively limited research on this relationship has neglected Nietzsche’s rich annotations and observations on the American scholar. The EU-funded EMERSON-NIETZSCHE (Nietzsche’s reading of Emerson. A genetic study) project revisited and rethought available research on the Emerson-Nietzsche relationship. Focusing on Nietzsche’s ‘avant-texte’, or preparatory versions of the text, along with other literature that influenced the author, the project team sought to invalidate any oversimplified interpretation of Nietzsche’s work. Importantly, the study involved the methodology of genetic criticism – i.e. exploiting the reconstruction and analysis of the writing process and extrapolating valuable insight from the avant-texte. Genetic criticism helped produce reliable philological research that sheds new light on the Emerson-Nietzsche collection. To achieve this, the project team dated and deciphered Nietzsche’s marginal glosses. It then related them to corresponding parts of Emerson’s works and interpreted them. Through genetic criticism, the project built genetic paths that accurately pinpoint the role that the reading of Emerson played in developing Nietzsche’s thoughts. Four main research areas were covered by the project: conflict between free will and determinism, criticism of traditional morality, individualism as a basis for ethics, and Nietzsche’s 'great man' constitutive untimeliness along with his role within society. The results have been published on the NietzscheSource platform, comprising Nietzsche’s manuscripts, relevant works, posthumous notes and letters, among other valuable studies and notes. These outcomes not only revolutionise interpretations on Nietzsche’s thoughts and clear up misconceptions, they also present valuable new methodology to re-examine the works of other notable philosophers.


Nietzsche, Emerson, genetic criticism, avant-texte, philological

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