Thinking About the Poor   /   Fall 2014   /    Essays

Nietzsche Transformed

How the Philologist Became Modernity’s Philosopher With a Hammer

Chad Wellmon

Portrait of Friedrich Nietzsche (detail), c. 1906, by Edvard Munch (1863–1944); Munch-museet, Oslo, Norway; De Agostini Picture Library/Bridgeman Images.

For Nietzsche, the twilight of the gods and idols didn’t spell the end of religion.

It’s hard to read the old-fashioned way, slowly and deliberately. Few of us have the patience, the concentration, or the time. When we do read, we skim, trying to get a quick “take” on the topics of the day, often conveniently served up as prepackaged excerpts by our modern media machine. We flit from one thing to the next, never pausing to think about what we’ve just read, because in our media-saturated, technology-obsessed age we just don’t have time. Worse, our bad reading habits are symptomatic of a deeper malaise. Real learning, real knowledge, and real culture have been supplanted by the shallow, utilitarian instrumentalism of modern life. The evidence is mounting. Humanities departments are losing students to the sciences and other more useful majors, where they are stuffed with facts and outfitted with skills, better to serve the state as productive citizens; our cultural models are the average heroes of a popular culture. Our culture is in decline. And we read only the headlines.

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