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Professor Begins Year-Long Project to Translate Writings of Philosopher Nietzsche

Public Relations
Posted: Wednesday Apr 24, 2013

April 24, 2013

Saint Vincent College associate professor of philosophyDr. George H. Leiner has begun an extensive, year-long project to translate the writings of famed German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche.

“The power of Nietzsche’s thought, both as challenge and inspiration, reverberates through the last century,” Leiner commented. “In existential phenomenology, theology, psychology, post-structuralism, literature, music: Heidegger, Jaspers; Tillich, Buber; Freud, Jung; Derrida, Foucault; Hesse, Mann; Shaw, O’Neill; Mahler, Strauss; where would their work be without Nietzsche?”

Yet, despite Nietzsche’s enormous influence, there is no complete, English, critical edition of Nietzsche’s work so a project initiated by Stanford University Press’ The Complete Works of Friedrich Nietzsche will remedy this.

“My role in this project will be to translate from the original German the bulk of Volume 12 (pp. 185-582) of the Saemtliche Werke: Kritische Studienausgabe to appear as Vol. 17 of the Stanford edition. With the support of an American Philosophical Society Franklin Research Grant, I will make a two-week research trip to the Nietzsche Archive, located within the Goethe and Schiller Archive, itself a part of the Weimar Classics Foundation, in Weimar, Germany this fall.

The unpublished materials for which he has translation responsibilities stem from the summer of 1886 through the fall of 1887, a period particularly crucial in the development of Nietzsche’s thought and a time immediately before his final, great creative outpouring. “He had paused to gather his thoughts, to bring together a central set of insights around the term ‘nihilism,’ insights which first emerge in ground prepared by the notions of the ‘eternal return’ the ‘will to power’ and the ‘revaluation of all values,” Leiner added. “Unfortunately, and due largely to the fact that these materials have only been available in English in fragmentary form, there has been much misunderstanding as to the direction of Nietzsche’s thought in the last years of his working life. Much notoriety has grown up around the so-called Will to Power – a volume compiled by his sister from unpublished notes – which presents a highly distorted view of Nietzsche’s thought. When the full record is available, it will be seen that the focus of Nietzsche’s considerations is not on the accumulation of power, but rather on the critical and creative process of engaging and living through values which make human life worthy of affirmation and celebration.”

“By adopting standard practices and consistent renderings of key terms, the Stanford publication will avoid the pastiche of disparate voices and interpretive imperatives evident in previous English translations,” Leiner explained. “Furthermore, textual fidelity will be of the highest priority. It will provide notes to the reader informing rather than over interpreting the text. We translators will call attention to thorny passages, such as puns and figures of speech difficult to render from the German, keeping the reader informed of alternative translations. In addition to being faithful to presenting Nietzsche and not the translator, Volume 17, as part of the Stanford work, will assure that the reader will encounter a text which has been produced as a result of focused, collaborative work among multiple translators and an editorial staff of the highest scholarly credential.”

The two week-long research trips to the Nietzsche Archives will be only a small part of the anticipated 12-month project Leiner is undertaking. “Leiner began full time work on the project in January, the beginning of his sabbatical year granted by Saint Vincent College, and he has agreed with Stanford University Press to complete the work by December 31. The work has four main components: translation of some 400 pages of text; preparation of an afterword; archives research; and consultation with edition co-editor Alan Schrift and members of the translation team of Adrian Del Caro of The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and Babette Babich of Fordham University.

“Nietzsche’s handwriting is notoriously difficult to decipher,” Leiner noted, “and with each pass through the materials, further corrections need to be made. By September I will have completed the bulk of the translation and will be able to productively use the time at the archives to resolve any additional complications with the text which have arisen in the work between January and September.”

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Photo: Dr. George H. Leiner 

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