At the time, in 1900, that Martin Buber, then a twenty-two-year-old university student in Zurich, wrote his brief eulogy for Friedrich Nietzsche, the German philosopher had spent the previous decade confined to an asylum and his family’s care because of his mental incapacity and had died in relative obscurity. Nietzsche’s earlier work was then largely unknown: a few studies and biographical memoirs had been published, but none of his books were familiar to more than a small cohort of enthusiasts.
Buber had become one of them as a teenager, embarking on an ultimately abandoned translation of Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra into his native Polish while he was still in high school. A gifted, multilingual polymath, Buber identified with Nietzsche’s critique of conventional disciplines and rote systems of thought. More than that, he valued Nietzsche’s conception of philosophy as creative rather than merely critical and found in it a call for a radical transvaluation of what he, with Nietzsche, regarded as the hollow ethos of European life and institutions.
Buber’s eulogy, written in German, was first published in a Berlin student organization’s journal called Die Kunst im Leben (“Art in Life”) in 1900, the year of Nietzsche’s death. It has been reprinted in the first volume (edited by Martin Treml) of Buber’s collected writings in German, Works, edited by Paul Mendes-Flohr and Bernd Witte. This is the first English translation based on that version.
The translation is published in the New York Review of Books, HERE, and in a newly revised translation of Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil.
Ulrich Baer is Professor of German and Comparative Literature in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and Vice Provost for Faculty, Arts, Humanities, and Diversity at NYU. He most recently published Fictions of America: The Book of Firsts, co-authored with Smaran Dayal. Learn more about him here.