By Chet Yarbrough
Hiking with Nietzsche (A Memoir)
By: John Kaag
Narrated by: Josh Bloomberg
John Kaag (Author, Professor and Chair of Philosophy at the University of Massachusetts Lowell)
Like Mary-Louise Parker’s memoir “Dear Mr. You”, “Hiking with Nietzsche” is nearly returned by this listener. Both memoirs, as the word suggests, are personal.
However, Parker’s memoir is burdened by Parker’s self-absorption. “Dear Mr. You” reminds this listener of an actress who chose not to appear at the stage-door in New York after a forgettable stage performance. Parker is a good writer, but she needs a better subject.
“Hiking with Nietzsche” is not overly burdened by its writer’s self-absorption. Kaag offers some clarity to Nietzschean philosophical belief. However, clarity is only partially delivered. Some details revealed by Kaag of Nietzsche’s life are helpful.
Freidrich Nietzsche (1844-1900, German philosopher, poet, composer, cultural critic, and classical philologist)
Nietzsche’s father was a Lutheran minister. He died when Nietzsche was only five years old.
Wilhelm Wagner (1813-1883, German composer and conductor.)
As a young man, Kaag explains Nietzsche idolizes Wagner. Wagner becomes a father figure to Nietzsche.
However, Wagner treats Nietzsche as a servant, an underling, burdened by sexual identity and a modicum of insight to the nature of life. Nietzsche eventually breaks with Wagner, partly in recognition of Wagner’s anti-Semite sentiment, but also as a break from surrogate parental control. Like a child/parent relationship, Nietzsche continues to love Wagner but not as a great human being.
Where Kaag fails is–in inadequately correlating his family life with Nietzschean philosophy. Kaag notes that Nietzsche spent a great deal of time in the mountains that Kaag and his family are visiting. He retraces some of Nietzsche’s peripatetic life in Basel and its surroundings.
Kaag explains Nietzsche abandons belief in God and suggests humankind has killed the idea of a Supreme Being which leaves man in charge.
Nietzsche suggests humankind is on its own.
Kaag notes Nietzsche argues–We humans can become the ideal man, the master of his/her life. In that recognition, humans become potential supermen. Right conduct is determined by individuals overcoming themselves.
This oneself recognizes morality is based on action that supports life, encourages self-assertion, and has no guilt. Nietzsche suggests life should come from a “Let it Be” mentality that repeats itself. Kaag does not make these ideas any clearer in using his family life and his personal actions as a husband and father as exemplars of Nietzschean philosophy.
“Hiking with Nietzsche” is a disappointment but not a waste of time.
There is something to pursue in philosophy whether one agrees with Nietzsche or not. If “God is Dead” can man be moral? It seems doubtful based on world history. On the other hand, all species continue to evolve and adapt. Earth’s environment is no longer taken for granted. Are there supermen and women in our future?