Thus Spoke Zarathustra by Nietzsche: A bold new translation

By Rosalind Porter, publisher at NHE

‘The whole of Zarathustra is an explosion of forces that have been accumulating for decades.’ – Friedrich Nietzsche

When Tom Kremer founded Notting Hill Editions in 2011, one of the books he most wanted to publish was a new translation of Friedrich Nietzsche’s infamous work of philosophical fiction Thus Spake Zarathustra (1883–1885), which centres on the philosophical idea of ‘eternal return’: the concept that time repeats itself in an infinite loop and that exactly the same events will continue to occur in exactly the same way, over and over again, for eternity.

A first edition of Thus Spake Zarathustra. Source: Christie’s

Tom had studied philosophy at the University of Edinburgh and the Sorbonne and it had always struck him that Nietzsche’s text, while frequently considered a philosophical treatise, was a lot like an essay in the Montaignian sense: an exploratory ‘attempt’ or a ‘try’; a form of writing that did not simply aim to prove something, but was instead full of creative scepticism. He considered it the greatest work of European literature.

The novelist and essayist Joanna Kavenna (who had, at the time, written an introduction to a selection of Virginia Woolf’s writing for NHE) agreed, but also convinced Tom of the poetic brilliance to be found in Nietzsche’s masterpiece. With her involvement, Tom began his search for the right translator. After many months, the English poet, translator and critic Michael Hulse (who is well-known for, among other things, his critically acclaimed translations of German novels by W.G. Sebald, Herta Müller and Elfriede Jelinek) agreed. Deadlines were planned, contracts were signed, but there was one glaring problem: how to fit this mammoth text into the slim, linenbound hardback format that NHE was synonymous with?

‘Hulse renders all these nuances, ambiguities and escalations in such wild, lovely poetry, his achievement is immense. He has crafted a bold, exhilarating translation of Nietzsche’s revolutionary work.’ – Joanna Kavenna
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Herein began Tom’s own experience of ‘eternal return’ as he struggled with the practicalities of publishing it. (As another ‘eternal return’, Kavenna relates in her introduction that Nietzsche himself was dropped by his publishers and had to cover the costs of printing the last part of his four book treatise.) At 95,000 words, NHE would have to print the book in two (possibly even three) volumes, each priced at around £14.99, which would just about cover the paper and shipping costs, but nothing else. Would anyone really spend £30 on a new translation of a book that could be bought in paperback for less than a tenner?

In 2017, Tom died and the project was put to one side. But when I joined NHE in 2021, our MD, Kim Kremer, mentioned this enormous endeavour that had not yet made it into print.

Michael Hulse translating Nietzsche? I thought? And it’s already written? We must find a way to do it!

Until that point, the unique aesthetic features of our hardback format had been one of the most defining characteristics of the NHE brand. It set us apart from other publishers and often allowed us to commission writers who otherwise wouldn’t have thought twice about writing for a tiny press because they were keen to be published in such beautiful editions. But we also felt that our format shouldn’t hold us back from publishing work that we felt was worthwhile, for that is the point of publishing, or at least why many of us end up in the profession: for the chance to disseminate writing that we feel is valuable. And so we decided to publish it as a ‘paperback original’, meaning we put it out in paperback first.

The results have been incredible. While we worried that NHE fans would see this as compromising on our principles, the feedback (and sales) have told us otherwise: the English-language literary world, it seemed, needed this new translation of Nietzsche. The book has achieved both commercial and literary success, albeit in a surprisingly different format from our traditional hardbacks.

Get your copy here.

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