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I'm gearing up to explore Nietzsche for the first time in a junior undergraduate 19th Century Euro Thought class, and I'm interested in exploring a specific question regarding the meaning and origin of suffering. Actually, I'm only interested in the origin of suffering if it relates to the way we now conceive of suffering. By "we," I mean Western culture. My question, specifically (and still roughly), is "What do the signs of our everyday actions as individuals and as a culture tell us about the way in which each and every one of us within Western culture views suffering, and how does this differ from the way we have viewed it in the past?"

The assigned class text is "On the Genealogy of Morals," but I'm free to use other sources, and in fact, I'm required to use at least 3 total. If I could get some recommendations from reliable Nietzsche researchers, I might expedite my search, and at the very least I will begin it.

My professor advocates a method of reading that heavily emphasizes the hermeneutic art that Nietzsche demands that we all take when reading, and I would preferably like to stay within authors' works whose focus is upon challenging the text and attempting to let the text challenge them.

  • Welcome! This is definitely an interesting question — can you perhaps specify if you're looking for secondary sources on Nietzsche (people writing about Nietzsche's account in GM), or additional 'primary' sources (other texts where Nietzsche or other philosophers are writing about suffering)? – Joseph Weissman Dec 1 '11 at 18:28
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    Thanks very much! I'm looking for secondary sources. I'm going to stick with the Genealogy and, since Nietzsche references it frequently in GoM, Beyond Good and Evil for now. – Eddie Peters Dec 2 '11 at 4:07
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A work I would highly recommend is a book by Gilles Deleuze called Nietzsche and Philosophy, which is a cautious, systematic and intensely earnest reading of Nietzsche's oeuvre. Brisoline writes about this work (in her review of the text in The European Legacy) that "[t]he fecundity of this reading and the breadth of its implications can hardly be overestimated."

Since it is rather central indeed, the question of suffering is addressed in some depth. Google says the word shows up on 24 pages; I'll quote part of the first result to give you an idea of the style:

In Dionysus and in Christ the martyr is the same, the passion is the same. It is the same phenomenon but in two opposed senses (VP IV 464). On the one hand, the life that justifies suffering, that affirms suffering; on the other hand the suffering that accuses life, that testifies against it, that makes life something that must be justified. For Christianity the fact of suffering in life means primarily that life is not just, that it is even essentially unjust, that it pays for an essential injustice by suffering, it is blameworthy because it suffers. The result of this is that life must be justified, that is to say, redeemed of its injustice and saved. Saved by that suffering which a little while ago accused it: it must suffer since it is blameworthy. These two aspects of Christianity form what Nietzsche calls 'bad conscience' or the internalization of pain (GM II). They define truly Christian nihilism, that is to say the way in which Christianity denies life; on the one side the machine for manufacturing guilt, the horrible pain-punishment equation, on the other side the machine to multiply pain, the justification of pain, the dark workshop. Even when Christianity sings the praises of love and life what curses there are in these songs, what hatred beneath this love! (Gilles Deleuze, Nietzsche and Philosophy 7)

Keith Ansell Pearson also has an excellent entry on Nietzsche in the "How to Read" series that is well worth a look.

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Here's an article in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy that talks about Nietzsche's notion of suffering in the context of his critique of morality.

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