Composing the Soul, 1994

Reaches of Nietzsche’s Psychology

by Graham Parkes


Nietzsche wrote in Ecce Homo (1888), 'That a psychologist without equal speaks from my writings—this is perhaps the first insight gained by a good reader. . . . Who among the philosophers before me was in any way a psychologist? Before me there simply was no psychology.'


Composing the Soul is the first study to pay sustained attention to this pronouncement and to examine the contours of Nietzsche's psychology in the context of his life and psychological makeup. Beginning with essays from Nietzsche's youth, Graham Parkes shows the influence of such figures as Goethe, Byron, and Emerson on Nietzsche's formidable and multiple talents. Parkes goes on to chart the development of Nietzsche's psychological ideas in terms of the imagery, drawn from the dialogues of Plato as well as from Nietzsche's own quasi-mystical experiences of nature, in which he spoke of the soul. Finally, Parkes analyzes Nietzsche's most revolutionary idea—that the soul is composed of multiple 'drives', or 'persons', within the psyche. The task for Nietzsche's psychology, then, was to identify and order these multiple persons within the individual—to compose the soul.


Featuring all new translations of quotations from Nietzsche's writings, Composing the Soul reveals the profundity of Nietzsche's lifelong personal and intellectual struggles to come to grips with the soul. Extremely well-written, this landmark work makes Nietzsche's life and ideas accessible to any reader interested in this much misunderstood thinker.


The University of Chicago Press, 1994, 496 pages

Cover drawing: 'The Composition of Nietzsche's Soul' by Setsuko Aihara



"Seele, the German word we translate as both 'soul' and 'psyche,’ was at the center of Nietzsche's brilliant ruminations on the construction and deconstruction of the self. Trenchantly analyzing the polyphonic structure and dissonant harmonies of Nietzsche's 'soul music,' Graham Parkes provides a  strikingly new account of the greatest psychologist before Freud."   Martin Jay, University of California, Berkeley


"The Nietzsche that Parkes reveals is amazing and fresh. This is a work of stupendous scholarship and enlightened  erudition. A terrific read."   Sheila Grimaldi-Craig, Spring Journal


“A penetrating and imaginative work that opens new territory for understanding and appreciating Nietzsche’s thought. Parkes provides a comprehensive account of Nietzsche as psychologist, student of the human soul in history culture, and  himself."   Laurence Lampert, author of Nietzsche's Teaching and Nietzsche and Modern Times.


“An intriguing, polished, and constructive interpretation of Nietzsche's pluralistic account of the complexity of the self. Highly recommended."  Choice


"With this book Parkes shows himself to be a Nietzsche scholar of the first rank."   Volker Gerhardt, Humboldt University, Berlin.