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Stanley Corngold, Walter Kaufmann: Philosopher, Humanist, Heretic

Hal H. Rennert


While teaching Goethe’s Faust in translation on the university level in the 1980s and 90s, I had come across the name Walter Kaufmann as a translator and an accessible commentator in, for example, the fifty-page introduction in the Doubleday bilingual paperback, signed by him “W. K., Easter Sunday, 1960”—a witty allusion to Faust’s decision, on Easter morning, not to commit suicide but to be “resurrected.” But in my own professional preparations, back in 1969–70, as a graduate student in what was then called Germanistik, including seminars taught by Ernst Behler, a Nietzsche scholar (and my Doktorvater), at the University of Washington, the name of Walter Kaufmann did not appear on our “secondary literature” reading lists—ostensibly because the seminars were conducted in German, while Kaufmann published in English. The paradigm change from Germanistik to German Studies in this country, which, among other things, removed interdisciplinary separation between literary studies and philosophy, had not yet occurred. One of the achievements of Corngold’s Walter Kaufmann, is his recognition and celebration of this paradigm change. Walter Kaufmann’s own daring and courageous book Nietzsche (1950) and, subsequently, his equally important interdisciplinary contribution, From Shakespeare to Existentialism (1959), even anticipated that paradigm change.

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