Alex Campolo: Translation of Deleuze and Foucault’s “General Introduction” to Nietzsche’s Complete Works

by Alex Campolo

This is a hasty translation, inspired by John Rajchman’s comment in his recent post for the Nietzsche 13/13 blog , of the “general introduction” written by Gilles Deleuze and Michel Foucault to the complete works of Nietzsche published by Colli and Montinari. I thought that the risk of errors and lack of refinement may be worth it, given the compressed timeframe of the seminar. This is more an invitation to further research than a finished translation.


Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze « Introduction générale » aux Œuvres complètes de F. Nietzsche, Paris, Gallimard, 1967, t. V: Le Gai Savoir. Fragments posthumes (1881-1882), hors-texte, pp. 1-IV. [Dits et écrits t. 1, texte no 45, pp. 561-564]

Translated by Alex Campolo

November 1, 2016

General Introduction

“Accursed” thinkers recognize themselves from a distance by three traits: a brutally interrupted œuvre, abusive kin who influence posthumous publications, and a mysterious book, something like “the book” whose secrets have never been exhausted.

Nietzsche’s œuvre was brutally interrupted by mental illness at the beginning of 1889. His sister Elisabeth made herself the authoritarian guardian of his work and memory. She published a certain number of posthumous notes. Her critics accuse her perhaps less of falsification (the only obvious ones concern the letters) than of distortion: she secured the image of an anti-Semitic Nietzsche, a precursor of Nazism—the anti-Nietzsche par excellence.


From the editor’s point of view, the main problem is that of the Nachlass, long identified with the project for a book that would have been called The Will to Power. As long as the most serious researchers were not able to access Nietzsche’s manuscripts in their entirety, we had only a vague understanding that The Will to Power did not exist as such, that it wasn’t one of Nietzsche’s self-contained books, but that it was the result of an arbitrary découpage made on the posthumous fragments that mixed up dates and origins. The first editors put together a fictional volume around a kernel of about four hundred “notes” and a four-part outline.

We must remember that Nietzsche was sketching different outlines at the same time; that he changed the goals for his major work; that he may have even given up by deciding to publish his other works in 1888, and, in any case, that he conceived the rest of his œuvre according to “techniques” that would be absurd for us to claim to reconstitute and fix. Nietzsche’s readers understand how prodigious his innovations were, if only in their technique of philosophical expression: the intentional fragment (not to be confused with the maxim), the long aphorism, the holy book, the exceptional arrangement of The Antichrist or Ecce Homo. Theater, opera, food, music, the poem, and parody are always present in Nietzsche’s work. No one can foresee either the form or the content that would have appeared in the great book (nor the other forms that Nietzsche would have invented if he had given up on his project). At most, the reader can dream; still she must be given the means to do so.


The set of hand-written notebooks represents at least three time the amount of work published by Nietzsche himself. The posthumous papers that have already been edited are much less numerous than those still awaiting publication.

Some editors have maintained that knowledge of these posthumous works will not bring about anything new. In fact, when a thinker like Nietzsche, a writer like Nietzsche presents several versions of a single idea, it follows that this idea ceases to be the same. Furthermore, the notes taken by Nietzsche in his workbooks would have been used not only for revisions or reworking but also for future books. It would be absurd to think that he had used everything and even more absurd to claim that the unpublished notes contain nothing different from those that were published. To name just two examples: in a notebook from 1875, Nietzsche studied and critiqued in detail one of Dühring’s books, Der Werth des Lebens. How could anyone claim that the full publication of this notebook would teach us nothing on the development and meaning of Nietzsche’s concept of value? An entire workbook from 1881 is on L’Éternel Retour; it seems likely, according to Ecce Homo, that Nietzsche went back to this notebook just before his illness. Once again, how can anyone deny that a complete edition is required?

The new development is the free access to these manuscripts, since their transfer from the old Nietzsche-Archiv to the Goethe und Schiller Archiv in Weimar, in East Germany in 1950. This event has profoundly changed our reading of Nietzsche in three main ways. We can now find the distortions made by Elisabeth Nietzsche and by Peter Gast; we can identify errors in dates, reading mistakes, and the innumerable omissions of the present editions of the Nachlass. Finally, and most importantly, we can study the mass of unpublished texts.

Through careful study of the immense Weimar archives, Mr. Colli and Mr. Montinari have opened the only possible route for a systematic publication: to edit the entirety of the notebooks in chronological order. Doubtless Nietzsche returned to old notebooks to add something new, or did not follow temporal order when working within a notebook. The fact remains that each notebook in its entirety can be dated (if only by allusions made from personal correspondence and fragments) and corresponds to a period in Nietzsche’s creative activity. In addition, these notebooks refract Nietzsche’s published works in new ways. They show how Nietzsche returned to and transformed a prior idea, how he gave up an idea that he would later take up, how a future idea was prepared or sketched out, and at what moment Nietzsche’s major concepts were formed. We must therefore edit the complete notebooks in chronological order, and according to the periods corresponding to the books published by Nietzsche. Only in this way can the many unpublished texts reveal their multiple meanings.

This edition follows the manuscripts that were read and transcribed by Mr. Colli and Mr. Montinari. The published works were translated from the last edition that appeared during his lifetime. The entire edition will thus include:

  • the early writings;
  • philological studies and courses from 1869 to 1878;
  • all works published by Nietzsche from The Birth of Tragedy (1872) to The Gay Science (1882), each accompanied by posthumous fragments from the periods of preparation and writing;
  • works published or ready for publication between 1882 and 1888 (Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Beyond Good and Evil, On the Genealogy of Morality, The Case of Wagner, The Twighlight of the Idols, The Antichrist, Ecce Homo, Neitzsche Contra Wagner, the Dionysian-Dithrambs) and unpublished poetry from the winter 1882-1883 to 1888;
  • the entirety of posthumous fragments written between the autumn of 1882 and the final lapse into mental illness.

With the exception of letters and musical works, we finally have a translation of Nietzsche’s complete works appearing in French at the same time that a critical edition, based on the same documents, is appearing in German and in an Italian translation directed by Mr. Colli and Mr. Montinari. Most of the French translations, even those of well-known works, will be new. We certainly have not forgotten the importance of the work of Charles Andler and Henri Albert at the beginning of the twentieth century, nor the importance of translations that preceded these. In certain rare cases, these will be reused.

We hope that the new day, brought about by the unpublished texts, will be that of the return to Nietzsche. We hope that the notes that he left, with their multiple structures, will open the reader’s eyes to all of the possibilities for combination and permutation that contain, now and forever, as a Nietzschean matter, the unfinished state of the “forthcoming book.”