Thinker on Stage is Peter Sloterdijk’s audacious, empathetic reading of Friedrich Nietzsche’s first published work, The Birth of Tragedy out of the Spirit of Music. Intended originally as a postscript to a new edition of Nietzsche’s book, the text grew and became a book in its own right.
It characterizes Nietzsche as a centaur — a philologist/musician, a philosopher/poet; the possessor of multiple talents inseparable from one another – who, in consequence, led the life of an obscure outsider on the fringes of organized cultural life. Not a hairsplitting philologist behind a lecturn but rather a thinker on stage, enacting a psychodrama on the origins of tragedy in universal human suffering. Reaching beyond philology, and risking his career, Nietzsche used this stage to present a glimpse of Greek antiquity quite unlike that cherished in nineteenth-century bourgeois culture.
Sloterdijk, in turn, uses his subtle reading of Nietzsche to make his own cultural evaluations. Above all, he finds in The Birth of Tragedy, and in Nietzsche’s life, a refutation of the will to power, and a sign that Nietzsche — fragile, wounded, endangered, yet self-affirming — is perhaps still our contemporary.