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In this essay I trace continuities in Nietzsche’s thought, demonstrating that several of the key ideas associated with the mature Nietzsche are found in seed form in the early essay, “On the Uses and Disadvantages of History for Life,” one of the Untimely Meditations, written in the winter of 1873. A developmental approach to Nietzsche’s work sets limits on postmodern approaches to reading Nietzsche. In his essay, Nietzsche argues that historiography must be evaluated on the basis of whether it serves life. I suggest that this criterion is the early version of what the late Nietzsche will describe as the imperative to “become what one is.”

If this book [Genealogy of Morals] is incomprehensible to anyone and jars on his ears, the fault, it seems to me, is not necessarily mine. It is clear enough, assuming, as I do assume, that one has first read my earlier writings and not spared some trouble in doing so: for they are, indeed, not easy to penetrate (GM, Preface, § 8).

Continuities. If one takes the above epigraph seriously, plunging at random into Nietzsche’s corpus is the wrong move indeed. Nietzsche’s aphoristic style and not always clear organization seem to support a reading that dives in and out of his various works. But Nietzsche does claim continuity to his thought and work, suggesting that to understand him we ought to read him as he wished to be read, from beginning to end. My concern here then is with the early Nietzsche, specifically the second of his four Untimely Meditations, “On the Uses and Disadvantages of History for Life” (HL). Written almost two years after The Birth of Tragedy, HL is a far less journalistic piece than the first “untimely meditation” on David Strauss, and develops an issue that Nietzsche had been intensely wrestling with at the time, namely, the “question of whether historical knowledge is a good or bad thing.”

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