I recently ran across an old book by Rose Pfeffer called Nietzsche: Disciple of Dionysus (Lewisburg: Bucknell U. Press, 1972) which is highly useful: I recommend it to anybody interested in Nietzsche. It is well-written, easy to read (so great for beginners) and brilliantly original. It treats Nietzsche's thought as a unified whole. The book consists in three parts: Dionysus, The Eternal Recurrence and The Innocence of Becoming. The first has three chapters: the tragic world view, nihilism, and the problem of truth The second, on eternal recurrence, has four: the doctrine's importance, the scientific basis of Nietzsche's theory, the metaphysical perspective, and ethical perspective. Part three has three: one on the aesthetic interpretation of being, one on the silence of art, and one on Nietzsche's Dionysian Faith. Every page is full of insight and one wonders why this book has not been used more widely.
Here are some quotes that indicate how much she overcomes misconceptions about Nietzsche:
On the overman:
"But Nietzsche's overman is not something extra-human or trans-human, as has been claimed; neither is he the blond beast, the man of savage cruelty and unsublimated raw nature in whose uncontrolled will everything is permitted. When Nietzsche says in Zarathustra "I teach you the overman; man is something that should be overcome," he does not mean that the overman should transcend humanity, but rather that he should become truly human. ....What must be overcome is the 'last man,' the 'herd man' who is complacent and resigned, uncommitted and uninspired....Above all, the last man is part of all of us - and even of Zarathustra - returning again and again to face us in our eternal struggle of self-overcoming and our eternal search for our true self. ..What is overlooked is Nietzsche's deep faith in man, in his creative energies and potentialities....Our true self, according to Nietzsche, is greatly above what we ordinarily take it to be...." (245) and "Overcoming is therefore for Nietzsche primarily self-overcoming and self-realization; the overcoming of fears and cowardice, of despair and anguish by transforming these negative passions, which threaten to take possession of us, into active powers. The will to power is not power over others, but power over ourselves - the sublimation of our instincts and our passions....The essential characteristic of Nietzsche's overman, and indeed the center of his whole philosophy, is creativity. And it is this creative aspect in man as well as in nature around him which constitutes the divine element." (246)
What of Nietzsche's apparent defense of the "blond beast"?
Pfeffer writes that when Nietzsche writes "rather a Cesare Borgia ...than a Parsifal?" the sentence "does not express a justification of cruelty, savagery, and uncontrolled passions, or admiration for Cesare Borgia. What it does say is that there is more hope for the overman and the development of man's creative powers in a Cesare Borgia, whose instincts, while not yet ordered and sublimated, are not extirpated, as Nietzsche believes they are in Parisfal. Evil, for Nietzsche, as for Goethe, is a positive power. The passions and primitive instincts of a Cesare Borgia can be made to act as dynamic forces, as obstacles to be overcome, as necessary 'movers' in the development of the will to power. But in Parsifal Nietzsche sees a man of weakness, whose instincts and urges were extirpated, not sublimated, destroying the fertile soil of inner chaos and conflict." (249-50.)
How does this all relate to aesthetics?
"The essence of the Faustian [she has an interesting analysis of Nietzsche's debt to Goethe], Dionysian creative individual and of Nietzsche's and Goethe's humanistic pantheism has its foundation not in morality but in aesthetics. Both men stress the essential connection between religion and art." (252) and "The eternal recurrence is an expression of Nietzsche's belief in the eternity and unity of God, nature, and man; it is a pantheistic benediction of all existence." On pantheism, she argues that Nietzsche, Spinoza and Goethe all share a "conception of the universe as a unified whole, in which God, nature, and man are inextricably interwoven" (256) which for Nietzsche leads to "amor fati."