Great Secondary Philosophical Work

Walter Kaufmann’s Nietzsche is pleasing in several different ways. A great start to a new year’s reading, as it’s got me reading, writing and thinking like a man on fire.

I’ve always been stubborn about tackling the major thinkers directly, head on. Stubborn and in cases like Derrida, likely to end in tears. Kaufmann’s Nietzsche is a first-rate work of literature, as good as Thus Spoke Zarathustra, which Nietzsche felt, probably correctly, was his finest moment. I’ve lined up other secondary material on Nietzsche by Nehemas, Safranski and Malcolm Bull.

But I’m wondering what other books on the major thinkers stand up as works of literature in their own right? Is there someone I ought to be reading that will open up Bourdieu’s philosophy/sociology in the way Kaufmann has for Nietzsche’s work? Or Deleuze’s work, which I almost read as poetry, allowing meaning to sink in where it can?

It isn’t just Kaufmann that has me thinking along these lines. Richard Geldard’s Remembering Heraclitus was enlightening. I also became aware from Samuel Beckett’s Library, one of my all-time favourite pieces of secondary literature, how much Beckett approached the major thinkers indirectly before, if ever, launching a direct assault on their major works.

If you have any suggestions please reply in Comments (so other readers can share) rather than Twitter, where everything just gets lost or buried in Favourites.

10 thoughts on “Great Secondary Philosophical Work

  1. Anthony, I *highly* recommend Jeremy Barris’s “God & Plastic Surgery: Marx, Nietzsche, Freud & the Obvious” ( Great title, no? I read it 25 years ago, and still think about it once in a while. The “crab” logic Barris outlines is quite nifty, and the prose style is miles above the usual.
    ~Roman (aka @Zenjew)

    • Thanks, Roman, great title and there is no chance I can resist a book described thus:

      A battery of insights into how to and how not to think, act, feel, eat, dress, dance, take tea, or fuck. Something like equal parts Gertrude Stein and Wittgenstein.

  2. Anthony,
    I hope you have a year full of readings. I really enjoy this blog – it is kind of a guide to my own readings. Have you read “Nietzsche” by Bataille?

  3. Anthony, my recommendation (apologies if it’s excessively antiquarian) would be Walter Pater’s Plato and Platonism, a beautifully-written and lucid set of introductory lectures for students circa 1890. I approached this book with a grudging sense of duty when I was in grad school and wanting to write on Pater’s fiction, but it turned out to be perhaps my favorite of his books. I also ran across a passage acclaiming it in the letters of Samuel R. Delany for its surprisingly relevant introduction to concepts anticipating deconstruction (I share your tears over Derrida). It pairs perfectly with Nietzsche. From Pater’s wikipedia entry:

    “In this year [1893] appeared his book Plato and Platonism. Here and in other essays on ancient Greece Pater relates to Greek culture the romanticism-classicism dialectic which he had first explored in his essay ‘Romanticism’ (1876), reprinted as the ‘Postscript’ to Appreciations. ‘All through Greek history,’ he writes, ‘we may trace, in every sphere of activity of the Greek mind, the action of these two opposing tendencies, the centrifugal and centripetal. The centrifugal – the Ionian, the Asiatic tendency – flying from the centre, throwing itself forth in endless play of imagination, delighting in brightness and colour, in beautiful material, in changeful form everywhere, its restless versatility driving it towards the development of the individual’: and “the centripetal tendency’, drawing towards the centre, ‘maintaining the Dorian influence of a severe simplification everywhere, in society, in culture’. Harold Bloom noted that ‘Pater praises Plato for Classic correctness, for a conservative centripetal impulse, against his [Pater’s] own Heraclitean Romanticism,’ but ‘we do not believe him when he presents himself as a centripetal man’.”

    • John, Thank you. That is a terrific suggestion and pairs perfectly with Nietzsche. I’ve managed to find a decent copy on Abebooks. I love the fragment that you left from Pater’s wikipedia entry, it captures that tension between Dionysus and Apollo so well.

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