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Nietzsche's Friends and Enemies.

Just thirty years ago, R. J. Hollingdale began the introduction to one of his translations with the defensive question: "Why read a book by Nietzsche?" Now these same books are being simultaneously retranslated in several competing editions, so eager are university presses to capitalize on the academic bonanza that Friedrich Nietzsche has become. Many of Nietzsche's works were first published in print runs of some two hundred copies. We have now reached the point where there are many more books about Nietzsche than there were once copies of the original titles themselves. In the past decade alone, as a quick computer search will inform anyone, nearly three hundred volumes have been written concerning Nietzsche's work, his relation to other philosophers and cultural figures, and his effect on every aspect of our contemporary existence. Even for those seriously concerned with Nietzsche's philosophy, keeping up with this literature is a nearly impossible task. If forty days and forty nights were enough to cover the earth with water, then the flood of Nietzsche literature is perhaps nearing the thirty-eighth day. Once is almost tempted simply to wait until the waters have receded and then to see what, if anything, remains.

It must nonetheless be conceded that this enormous outpouring has brought with it some real advances in our understanding of Nietzsche. Where once it was de rigeur for a book on Nietzsche to at least begin with a prolonged disavowal of his responsibility for fascism, it is now admitted, even by his critics, that such charges are largely baseless and need not be the center of attention. Where it used to be maintained that Nietzsche's texts were a jumble of fragments which could be read in practically any order, it is now widely recognized that his books, and philosophy as a whole, have a complicated and subtle structure which require some work to understand.

The existence of each of these volumes owes something to the recent frenzy of interest in Nietzsche. Two of them (the Klossowski and the K[ddot{o}]hler) are translations of a sort rarely undertaken nowadays. Nietzsche and the Vicious Circle was originally published thirty years ago and, despite its enormous influence in France, has been unavailable in English until now. Nietzsche and Wagner, on the other hand, is a very slight biographical sketch recently published in Germany. Neither volume, one suspects, would have been translated in today's climate had they concerned almost any other philosopher. And Nietzsche Contra Democracy is a reaction, not so much to Nietzsche himself, but to the direction that some of the Nietzsche literature has taken in the last fifteen years or so. In a sense, each book represents a common channel in which much current scholarship on Nietzsche flows: for Klossowski, Nietzsche is the inspiration for a new, postmetaphysical philosophy that fundamentally breaks with the past; for K [ddot{o}]hler, Nietzsche's life is both an object of morbid fascination and the key to understanding his writings; for Appel, Nietzsche is an enemy of democracy whose pernicious influence must be resisted. These are not the only reactions to Nietzsche of course, but they are among the most frequent. Klossowski and Appel, in particular, represent well-known poles in a debate that will surely not be settled soon.

The title of K[ddot{o}]hler's book is a bit misleading. The German edition was called Friedrich Nietzsche und Cosima Wagner--but perhaps the fairest title would simply have been "Nietzsche and the Wagners" for the real concern here is the very strange triangular relationship that existed between these three singular personalities, the most intense period of which was the early 1870s. Wagner had already completed many of his main operas and was a famous, if controversial, figure. Cosima, the daughter of Liszt, was at first married to one of Wagner's admirers, then became the composer's mistress and, finally, his wife and principal manager of his affairs. While Nietzsche was well known in philological circles for his appointment to a position at Basel at the remarkably young age of twenty-four, he was otherwise unnoticed until the publication of The Birth of Tragedy, with its encomiums to Wagner, in 1872. Nietzsche was introduced to the Wagners in 1869 and initially the couple took little notice of him. When h is usefulness as a propagandist became clear, however, he was admitted into their inner circle. With the publication of The Birth, Nietzsche for a time became the center of attention. Wagner was at first delighted with the book's praise of himself and envisioned Nietzsche as the tutor to his then-infant son. At some point, however, the composer began to consider Nietzsche an intellectual rival--something that could not be tolerated in the clique of acolytes that surrounded the Wagners. Relations then cooled steadily until the publication of Nietzsche's fourth Untimely Meditation, "Richard Wagner in Bayreuth," in 1876-- though couched in friendly terms, it in fact contained a rather pointed assessment of the older man's character. Thereafter contact was sporadic and, in the 1880s, ceased altogether until Nietzsche's collapse in late 1888 when, among other notes, he sent a postcard to Cosima Wagner, now a widow, which read in its entirety: "Ariadne, I love you-Dionysus".

K[ddot{o}]hler has done a great deal of research among the correspondence (not wholly preserved) of the principals, as well as among that of a variety of peripheral figures. It is indeed remarkable how much of their interaction can be unearthed through the letters of their friends, doctors, and other hangers-on. A great deal of later obfuscation must be fought through to get at the (often quite mundane) facts since, later on, many figures (including Nietzsche's sister who controlled his papers for many years) had reason both to glorify and to distort the relationship. In this effort, K[ddot{o}]hler succeeds very well. His own take on the association is fairly straightforward: "If one were to believe his letters, and subsequently his biographers, one would assume that Nietzsche's escape to the idyllic peace of Tribschen [where the Wagners stayed in the early 1870s] brought him the refreshment of mind and body that he needed. In reality, it only reduced him to another form of subjugation" (pp. 58-59).

While K[ddot{o}]hler has indeed revealed many hidden details of this relationship and clarified some puzzling episodes, the impact of all this on our understanding of Nietzsche's philosophy, or even of the character of all three parties, is limited. To begin with, despite the claim made above, it would be hard to find anyone, apart from Nietzsche's sister, who would argue that the two men had anything like a healthy friendship. The pettiness and shabby treatment that the Wagners dished out to their "friends" (on horrific display in this volume) cannot, at this late date, be news either. While the details of the Wagners' attempts at slandering Nietzsche make for fascinating reading (they could not seem to make up their minds whether to call him a homosexual, a Jew, or both), in the end one wonders how seriously to take any of it.

It does not help that K[ddot{o}]hler tends to overdramatize their interactions. He maintains that, at the Wagners', Nietzsche was "relegated to the level of a slave. The price he had to pay for permission to enter ... [was] the sacrifice of his own personality" (p. 60). And what was the nature of this slavery? "They used him, for example, to help locate the portrait of Wagner's uncle Adolph, which meant that he had to go to Leipzig, trace the whereabouts of the owner,...then pester her" (pp. 60-61). Other episodes of Nietzsche's "slavery" include requests to clip newspaper articles, having some books rebound, and tracking down a lamp for which Wagner had a particular fondness. No doubt it was presumptuous of the Wagners to ask such favors of a young professor and Nietzsche's eagerness to please appears childish in retrospect. But none of it is really the stuff of high drama nor demeaning or exploitative enough to warrant the term slavery. And, in its enthusiasm to keep track of everyone's feelings, the book pays scant attention to their ideas.

Part of the problem is that K[ddot{o}]hler often chooses to reduce intellectual issues to emotional ones. There were, no doubt, more than a few strange emotional dynamics between the parties. (Not so much on Cosima's part; she adored Wagner and appears to have viewed Nietzsche in consistently utilitarian terms. But Nietzsche clearly sought out a father-figure in Wagner and had some sort of Oedipal attachment to Cosima--while for Wagner, Nietzsche was one in a series of young men whose closeness and adoration he sought and then exploited or repudiated.) But there were also genuine intellectual differences. Nietzsche had at first been attracted to Wagner's Germanophite romanticism. As Nietzsche's views became more cosmopolitan, he began to recoil from Wagner's increasingly pious Christianity and nationalism. Wagner's late Parsifal, with its philosophy of pity (not to mention its theatrical kitsch) pointed in a direction quite the opposite from Nietzsche's, as the latter wrote many times. Yet when Kohler report s a conversation in which Nietzsche outlined these objections to a friend, the author finds Nietzsche's reasons "flimsy" and maintains that "In fact, Nietzsche's sense of insult had nothing to do with Wagner's belated conversion," and everything to do with personal matters (pp. 140-41). It is as if Kohler cannot bring himself to believe that anyone would take intellectual differences so seriously, and so an emotional conflict must be at the root of all the trouble. Insofar as the book has something to say about the relationship between Wagner's thinking and Nietzsche's, Kohler can only imagine that the latter is "a slave to Wagner's jargon and the ideas behind it," in the early 1870s (p. 96), or later, in total opposition to them. A more careful comparison might have brought out with greater clarity the evolution in Nietzsche's thinking that resulted from his relationship with the Wagners. Nietzsche's views on the artistic personality the importance of music to his philosophy, his views on nationalism--all of these were obviously affected by his contact with Wagner, but none receive sustained attention here.

The greatest frustration is that, for all its historical detail, Kohler's book sheds little light on the most intriguing and mysterious part of the whole affair, Nietzsche's feelings for Cosima--both what they were initially and what it was that persisted, after years of slander and silence on her part, and moved Nietzsche to write his last, rapturous note. Likewise, Kohler is so bent on depicting the Wagners as simply malicious at every turn (not at all a hard job) that he fails to notice the significance of some of the more intriguing evidence his search has produced--simply that the Wagners continued to read Nietzsche and to be concerned with his views in the 1880s, years after they had banished him from their presence and when he was utterly forgotten in intellectual circles (pp. 157, 165). Even on the Wagners' side, it seems, there was some nuance and complexity into which, in his desire for high Victorian melodrama, Kohler declines to inquire.

Surprisingly, it is Klossowski, whose purposes are only marginally biographical, who throws more light on the Ariadne/ Dionysus relationship. It is often supposed that the rediscovery of Nietzsche by radical French theorists began with Delevze's Nietzsche and Philosophy, published in 1962. While that was indeed a pivotal work, Klossowski, in fact, was already lecturing and writing on Nietzsche, in his distinctive style, in the fifties. Deleuze later acknowledged him as the one who had "renewed the interpretation of Nietzsche." Although this collection of Klossowski's essays was published only in 1969, several of them had appeared earlier as articles and had already begun to exert an influence. Reading them now, their formative impact on a variety of French postmodernists is readily apparent. From page to page, the phrasing reminds one, alternately, of Foucault, Derrida, and Baudrillard. Klossowski's writing is not always easy to follow, nor his position on Nietzsche easy to summarize. Nonetheless, this difficult book will repay the reader's attention in great measure. Considering the status of Nietzsche scholarship at the time of its composition, it would not be an exaggeration to call it a landmark.

The central idea which, I think, Klossowski can fairly claim credit for having introduced, concerns is the role of contradiction and multiplicity in Nietzsche's philosophy. (Though Jasper's earlier book on Nietzsche makes some gestures in this direction, it is not really a major theme there.) Klossowski's essays often begin with pages of quotation which are then dissected with great care--but not always with an eye to showing how they fit together. It is just as often Klossowski's aim to show how the pieces do not fit together, and rather than tasking Nietzsche with making "mistakes," to ask what these contradictions mean for his philosophy. For Klossowski, the contradictions of the theory are tied up with the multiplicity of the human soul, the effects of which Nietzsche was the first to take seriously: "We are only a succession of discontinuous states in relation to the code of everyday signs, and about which the fixity of language deceives us. As long as we depend on this code, we can conceive our continu ity, even though we live discontinuously" (p. 41, emphasis original). In an account which anticipates Derrida's and Foucault's by at least a decade, Klossowski focuses on the role of language in suppressing the diversity of the human soul in the name of social functioning. Nietzsche's texts, on this account, reflect "the quarrel between the body's multiplicity, with its millions of vague impulses, and the interpretive stubbornness of the meaning bestowed on it by the brain" (p. 33). Nietzsche was not able to solve this unsolvable conflict, but he was able to bring it out into the open in a way that previous philosophy had avoided.

The "vicious circle" of the title is Klossowski's term for the Nietzschean theory of eternal return. In Klossowski's interpretation, this is the second primary obstacle which humanity has to face. The circle of time is "vicious" because it "suppresses every goal and meaning, since the beginning and the end always merge with each other" (p. 30). If everything is bound to recur then will and action (at least in their traditional forms) are dissolved or rendered pointless. All one's efforts will come to naught since the conditions one seeks to escape or alter will inevitably return. On Klossowski's account, then, Nietzsche attacks our traditional understanding of the human place in the universe both internally and externally On the inside, our selves do not have the unity we readily suppose; on the outside, the meaning of our actions is relentlessly assaulted by the nature of existence; and both of these conditions are normally hidden from our consciousness by the structure of our language.

According to Klossowski, the proper Nietzschean response to this dilemma is to embrace (now in a language that anticipates Baudrillard) the fact "that existence is sustained only through fabulation" and that "the inability to invent simulacra is therefore merely a symptom of degeneration" (pp. 132-33). This is not to value fantasy over reality, but rather to admit that our grip on reality is sustained only through our unstable, active, rent psyches. It is, in a sense, to take responsibility for generating our own purposes in life, rather than waiting for purposes to be handed down to us by God, Nature, or Reason. It is in this context that Klossowski interprets Nietzsche's last notes and sketches from late 1888 and early 1889, terms of Turin." For Klossowski, the significance of the myth of Dionysus and Ariadne lies, not primarily in its sexual implications, but in the metaphors of searching, mystery, and the return through the labyrinth. Cosima Wagner, on his account, was the starting point, rather than the whole point, of this story: "Nietzsche was here expressing, not the course of his life but the mazes of his soul, and he found no other exit in it and for it than its starting-point. The soul has its own space and its own itinerary, and all its multiple networks must be traversed" (p. 248).

The book is not without its flaws. As with much Nietzsche commentary of the period (notably Heidegger's), Klossowski remains, in a sense, under the spell of Elizabeth F[ddot{o}]rster-Nietzche in valuing Nietzsche's notes and letters above his published texts. (During her tenure as the head of the Nietzsche Archive, she would release the notes in dribs and drabs, all the while maintaining that the most important pages were still to come. The air of mystery she created not only ensured the financial success of the various editions of The Will to Power but also led Nietzsche scholars to give added weight to the posthumous publications.) Though he had translated The Gay Science into French, Klossowski quotes almost exclusively from Nietzsche's notebooks and correspondence. This has, I think, at least two problematical effects. First, it has the consequence of making Nietzsche appear even more fragmentary than he is. Though Klossowski's emphasis on contradiction is surely correct, it receives, in a sense, an ille gitimate boost from the quotation of diverse and incomplete notes which in fact were often later transformed into the polished essays which appear in the works published in Nietzsche's lifetime. Second, the distance between intellectual assessment and biography is narrowed to the point where the reader is sometimes unsure whether what Klossowski offers is an interpretation or a diagnosis. Again, there is much in Nietzsche's work that invites such an approach, but one gets the sense that, at difficult moments, Klossowski settles for the later after failing to come up with the former. In addition, the intense emphasis on the Eternal Return, in my view, wrongly drains the significance from Nietzsche's many particular historical judgments in favor of a wholly abstract account of time and meaning. The detailed account of European social history in the Genealogy of Morals, for example, is largely absent in this interpretation while the emphasis is solely on the individual's confrontation with the burdens of existen ce. But that confrontation is not, for Nietzsche, one that can be modeled in the abstract--it always takes place within a particular historical situation with distinctive features. Even with these drawbacks, however, Nietzsche and the Vicious Circle was a notable advance on previous interpretations and its translation, even at this late date, a welcome event.

Though he does not mention Klossowski, it is, in a sense, Klossowski's intellectual descendants, especially those few in America, who are the target of Frederick Appel's Nietzsche Contra Democracy. Appel takes aim at those "Political theorists and moral philosophers who consider themselves radical democrats [and who] have grown accustomed to viewing Nietzsche as a useful resource" (p. 2). Appel is thinking principally of writers such as William Connolly, Bonnie Honig, Mark Warren and Tracy Strong, who could all be said to attempt to combine a perspectival Nietzschean account of the human condition with a commitment to a strong democratic politics. Of course, Appel is aware that one may make use of some aspect of a philosopher's work without being implicated in their every position. But, he maintains, in this case, "one of my central claims is that Nietzsche's radically aristocratic commitments pervade every aspect of his project, making any egalitarian appropriation of his work exceedingly problematic....I i ntend to argue for the all-encompassing nature of Nietzsche's elitist predilections" (pp. 5-6). This is a serious and well-thought-out claim and, if it could be sustained, would make an important dent in the kind of writing to which Appel objects. But given Nietzsche's penchant for contradiction and reversals, Appel has chosen a very hard path for himself. If Nietzsche is to be a consistent enemy of egalitarianism (and it is equality, not democracy, which is the true subject of this book), he must first of all be rendered consistent (in the traditional sense)--and this task consumes most of the pages that follow Appel's bold opening.

In order to maintain this position, Appel must attack a view of Nietzsche that, while common among the Nietzschean democrats, is also more broadly held. This is the view (which Klossowski was one of the first to articulate, but which is also maintained in various forms by Rorty, Nehamas and many others) that Nietzsche's rejection of metaphysics and perspectival epistemology give what appear to be his value judgments a status different from those of earlier philosophers. Following the lead of Brian Leiter and Maudmarie Clark, Appel argues that Nietzsche in fact intended to make truth-claims and ethical judgments much in the way of traditional political theory. The book marshals evidence and makes this argument gamely but I can only say that I find the reasoning strained. Appel's honesty forces him to admit that Nietzsche often says the exact opposite, in the most emphatic terms, about his work (most famously, in Thus Spake Zarathustra, "This is now my way: where is yours?...For the way - does not exist!") but , Appel then maintains, other passages where Nietzsche seems to use words such as 'lies' and 'truthfulness' (though rarely 'truth') in an unironic fashion, or where Nietzsche claims that his own life is in some sense exemplary, prove the earlier passages to be merely "rhetorical devices" (pp. 27,59). This argument relies on the position that, for Nietzsche to positively recommend anything, he must at the same time be disbarring himself from questioning the ultimate status of philosophical truths or else lapse into a 'performative contradiction' (as Habermas puts it). To my mind, this view does not take Nietzsche's claims seriously (not to mention those of Wittgenstein and other contemporary philosophers of language), but Appel is far from the first to hold it.

Indeed, it should be noted that Appel is not entirely the iconoclast that he sometimes avows himself to be. He repeatedly calls the democratic Nietzsche "popular" and argues that "tidying up Nietzsche for contemporary (liberal- or social-democratic) sensibilities remains the rule in the Anglo-American academy" (pp. 2, 12). But his own wide reading of the Nietzsche literature (and his scrupulous citation of it) belies this claim. In countering the names mentioned above, he cites many studies (including those of Peter Berkowitz, Maudmarie Clark, Bruce Detwiler, Brian Leiter, Richard Schact, Stanley Rosen, and J. P. Stern to name just some of the recent ones) with whose general drift he is largely in agreement. Indeed, I think it would be rather hard to claim that the sort of interpretations that Appel objects to command even a simple majority within the flood of recent works on Nietzsche. But, even if Appel's target is not as large or as dominant as he makes it out to be, it is certainly a real one--there is a genuine effort underway to wed Nietzsche's philosophy to some form of progressive politics and it is a fair enough project to bring this trend in the literature under scrutiny.

But note again the difficulty of the task Appel has set himself. He needs to establish more than that Nietzsche's views are often elitist. That much will easily be granted by almost anyone who has spent more than a few minutes with his texts--though as this book readily admits, his "aristocracy" is not a traditional one of class or race (p. 113). Rather Appel must demonstrate that Nietzsche's elitism poisons the rest of his views in such a way that the latter cannot be honestly extracted from the former. The problems with this approach are demonstrated by one of Appel's own interpretive strategies. It is a regular habit of his, in explicating Nietzsche's views, to compare them with those of Aristotle. So, for example, in describing the different types of human beings "Nietzsche was drawn to [the]Aristotelian perspective on nature" (p. 33); Nietzsche speaks of treating these different sorts differently "just as Aristotle argues in The Politics that it would be unjust to treat the better sort of man like every one else" (p.50); in reconstructing Nietzsche's ethics, Appel finds that "in a manner reminiscent of Aristotle's megalopsuchos [great-souled man], Nietzsche's great man feels viscerally compelled to rebel against moral systems that equate fine action and motivation with obedience to something outside of the self" (p.57). In all I counted at least a dozen such comparisons. As a strategy of explication, this approach succeeds very well. Insofar as Nietzsche can be said to have an ethics, there is indeed an Aristotelian flavor to it and Appel's ability to jump back and forth between the two is illuminating. But at a certain point, the use of Aristotle as a principal foil begins to work to the disadvantage of his overall argument. If anything, Aristotle is more categorical about his elitism than Nietzsche. While Klossowski can question whether Nietzsche believes in individuals at all, much less higher and lower ones, Aristotle is explicit on the point that some are slaves "by nature" (Politics 1255a) and that it is the distance from a slavish nature which measures the ethically respectable. Yet Appel's heroes in this volume are those we can only call "Aristotelian democrats" (e.g., Martha Nussbaum, Charles Taylor, and Bernard Yack) who pursue a strategy with Aristotle analogous to that of the postmodernists Appel opposes--they mine the Philosopher for insights into the human condition and reconstruct the positions in ways that claim to reduce or to eliminate a reliance on elitism which is unambiguously present in the original.

At some point, this problem with the argument occurred to Appel--he spends a few pages at the end of the book trying to dissociate Aristotle's elitism from Nietzsche's. The difference, he claims, is that "Aristotle maintains that there is something worthy of respect and admiration even in the lowliest," and that "the self-policing hubristic man of Nietzsche's fantasies" will not have such respect for others (pp. 165-66). But, even if this difference could be maintained, it is not the relevant one necessary to save Appel's position. The character of the aristocrats is not the important question. Nietzsche's elitism is said to disqualify him from contributing to democratic theory because it is so Thorough--yet Aristotle's is no less so. Indeed, the differences between high and low are more clearly biologically fixed and unchangeable in Aristotle's case. (Appel rather ties himself in knots in an attempt to establish that Nietzsche believed in the eugenic breeding of better people. Unable to find a smoking gun, in the end he satisfies himself with saying that while many statements speak directly against this view, others are "not inconsistent" with it (p. 116).)A different sort of argument entirely would be needed to maintain that Aristotle's hierarchical approach was somehow extractable from his theory while Nietzsche's is not. But none is made and, indeed, it is hard to imagine what it would look like. Given everything we know about Nietzsche's use of irony, his account of human multiplicity, his attempts to write a new sort of philosophy, and his attacks on all existing value structures, it would seem to be much easier to maintain that Nietzsche's texts contain resources that contradict and put into question his elitism than would be the case with Aristotle. It is a revealing moment when, in his final chapter, Appel scoffs at the suggestion, made by a Nietzsche scholar, that in our interpretations of the concept of "nobility" we should be "as charitable to Nietzsche as to Aristotle" (p. 144). Unless one is willin g to throw all the philosophers out with the aristocratic bathwater and disqualify every elitist from contributing to democratic theory (and it would be hard to imagine many pre-twentieth-century philosophers passing this test), the selective indictment of Nietzsche will remain just that.

So where has one full century of Nietzsche commentary brought us? Even if the floodwaters were to recede, the landscape beneath them will have been permanently changed. The question is no longer whether Nietzsche was an early Hitler or a late Christ. The "death of God" which Nietzsche proclaimed is a fact in modem philosophy and political theory (even if it is far from being so in contemporary politics). His skepticism toward metaphysics is shared by many democratic theorists, liberal, conservative, and radical, who are, on other questions, opposed to one another. What does remain in question, as these books demonstrate, is the character of the philosophy Nietzsche left us, the plausibility of his recommendations for human existence, and the question of whether his own example, in life or philosophy, is a healthy one or one which we ought to follow. Those who are satisfied, in broad outline, with the forms of contemporary liberal democracy and the modern society to which it is conjoined, will continue to see Nietzsche as an irritating and morally dubious presence in the canon. Those, on the other hand, who remain discontented with our current existence, even in its gentler incarnations, will continue to find in Nietzsche an inspiration and a goad to something different. As Richard Wagner (who had been a revolutionary in 1848 and later courted princes) discovered, making peace with the status quo means making an enemy of Nietzsche.

JOSHUA FOA DIENSTAG, author of Dancing in Chains: Narrative and Memory in Political Theory, is Associate Professor of Government and Foreign Affairs in the University of Virginia.

Fredrick Appel: Nietzsche Contra Democracy. (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1999. Pp. xv, 174. $29.95)

Pierre Klossowski: Nietzsche and the Vicious Circle. Translated by Daniel W. Smith. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997. Pp. xx, 282. $50.00. $19.95, paper.)

Joachim K[ddot{o}]hler. Nietzsche and Wagner: A Lesson in Subjugation. Translated by Ronald Taylor. (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1998. Pp. 186. $25.00)
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Title Annotation:Review
Author:Dienstag, Joshua Foa
Publication:The Review of Politics
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 2000
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