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Here is a short excerpt from Nietzsche's "Zur Genealogie der Moral":

[Er] hatte mir bis dahin zugehört und hielt es nicht aus, mich schweigen zu hören. Für mich nämlich giebt es an dieser Stelle viel zu schweigen.

Walter Kaufmann's popular translation renders the first sentence as: "[He] could not endure to listen to my silence."

My question is: Ignoring the next sentence ("Für mich..."), is there any chance that Nietzsche meant "He could not endure listening TO ME SPEAK while HE REMAINED SILENT"?

I am pretty sure Kaufmann's translation really is what Nietzsche meant, but I would like to confirm with expert speakers.

It is interesting to speculate why Nietzsche was being so enigmatic. Perhaps the responder ("Er") is so very much against Nietzsche's ideas that he simply cannot bear Nietzsche harboring his ideas, even in Nietzsche's silence? And in the next sentence ("Für mich..."), Nietzsche is shocked into silence, given the weight and seriousness of his ideas.

Another simple explanation: "It's just Nietzsche being Nietzsche!" But I don't want to be dismissive...

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  • By the way, "mich schweigen zu hören" is a sort of bloomer. I would prefer "und hielt jetzt mein Schweigen nicht aus."
    – Paul Frost
    Mar 28, 2023 at 10:27

1 Answer 1

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No chance. It's completely clear grammatically that it is the first-person narrator who is keeping silent, and the Kaufman translation is correct.

More literally:

[Er] hielt es nicht aus, mich schweigen zu hören.
[He] couldn't endure hearing me being silent.

I don't know more of the context, but from the language, I mainly see two alternative interpretations:

  1. The first person talked a lot and then fell silent (because he has "a lot of things to be silent about"), which the responder couldn't endure.

  2. The first person talked a lot but didn't talk (remained silent) about what the other person really expected him to talk about.

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  • Thank you for the answer. I don't think Nietzsche meant anything particularly profound by these sentences other than that he and the responder have a radical disagreement. (That's very clear from context.) But with Nietzsche, it's always hard to be sure. He packs huge claims and meaning into nearly every sentence. Mar 27, 2023 at 5:23

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