Wednesday, February 15, 2017

“New Departures and High Mountains”

Note:  I find certain books in my Nietzsche collection of distinguished merit.  I have already mentioned Beyond Selflessness as an outstanding example of Nietzsche scholarship.  Another is Nietzsche in Turin by Lesley Chamberland.  I plan to review this work (and several others) when the philosophic-biography portion of this blog is completed.  In this post I quote extensively and exclusively from Chapter 6 of Chamberland's excellent work.  It is the best overall intimate summary of Nietzsche I have found regarding his life and work in 1888.  It fits perfectly between The Case of Wagner and Twilight of the Idols.

The Wagner Case, 'funny but at base almost too serious', had pressed upon him, but by the end of May Nietzsche was ready to resume his main task: to draw a line under the past, sum up his achievements, and consummate their message with a new work or works 'transvaluing all values'. To Resa von Schirnhofer he asked without further elucidation: 'Do you understand the trope?'  Perhaps they had talked over these long-standing ideas of his in Nice.  To Brandes, having already explained he was making a mission out of his disbelief in culture, and 'circling round this paramount problem of values, very much from above and in the manner of a bird, and with the best intention of looking down upon the modern world with as unmodern an eye as possible', he preferred to elaborate.

“'My problem this time is a curious one: I have asked myself what hitherto has been hated, feared, despised by mankind – and of that and nothing else I have made my gold...'

“He sought 'values' he believed would be more helpful to humanity than the Christian teaching concerning universal afflictions, loneliness, and suffering, which were so much his own. But 'values' is a difficult word to use when Nietzsche regarded them all as relative. It is better to say he scanned the psychological horizon for a vantage point, and point of stability, 'beyond'.  A man enlightened by seeing life from above, 'from beyond good and evil', could one day redescend to a full and excellent existence. Zarathustra showed the way.  But again enlightened, aufgeklart is a word in the wrong tradition.  Verklart the experience of Schoenberg's Verlart Nacht, 'Transfigured Night', seems closer to Nietzsche's transvalued world.

“The fullness and excellence of a transfigured existence was the goal of Nietzsche's art of life.  It was his only positive teaching that individual strength emanated from self-knowledge and self-management. He spoke of Herrenmoral and meant 'self-mastery morality'.  It mattered how a man ate, how he lived, how he organized his day.  It mattered for the sake not of his image but his soul. Between Nietzsche's view of the artistically shaped life and the popular notion of lifestyle today a qualitative gulf seems to yawn.  On the other hand Nietzsche at least maintained that 'image' was the only reality there was, and he might be called a lifestyle guru today.

“Zarathustra's favorite metaphor is of inner life overflowing its confines like honey from a jar.  There is poise, there is invigoration, happiness, sexual fulfillment, intoxication, sadness, pious love, hurt silences and deep quiet in Nietzsche's writing, and many other emtions and sensations besides.” (pp. 87-88)

“Thus originated the transvaluation task.  Its beginnings in a critique of self-inflicted human pain explain the title of the next book he would write in 1888, Twilight of the Idols. The 'idols' were concepts hitherto cherished by humanity, such as love and benevolence, selfishness and truth, which Nietzsche would now show had long since been turned into weapons against the full development of humane individuals.

“Destroying the idols, which would become Freud's totems, was the work of the psychologist in Nietzsche. The first Existentialist we might also call him.  The psychologist's role – to change the metaphor to another of Nietzsche's favorites from the classical world – was to point the ways out of labyrinth for souls who had lost faith I received moral guidance.  It was the same job of emotional reinforcement Dionysus had been doing in all of Nietzsche's work since The Birth of Tragedy, supplying an alternative to Christian faith and Schopenhauerian pessimism without resort to a too simple materialism.” (page 90)

“The most complete statement of his philosophy, Beyond Good and Evil, had been published two years now and still he had only a handful of readers worldwide and so few people understood.  Twilight of the Idols was yet another attempt to explain his whole outlook in one short excursion, and only after it could he sit down to The Antichristian. This post-Christian send-off for readers still actively seeking the meaning of life he designated the first 'transvaluation' volume. Into it he would put all his sympathy for human pain and all his hatred of the Christian church for exploiting that pain as a means of 'herd' control – the opposite of 'self-mastery morality'.  Twilight would form, as Nietzsche's books so often did, one to another, once again a kind of prelude, an introduction.  A magnificent recapitulation of the Dionysian, sweeping across the millennia from Aristotle on tragedy to what would become Freud on Eros and Thanatos, the life urge and the death wish, ends Twilight. Nowhere better does Nietzsche set out the finally modulated psychology of inner plenitude, that keen sense of joy he had despite a wretched life.” (page 91)

“Before we can watch Nietzsche resume work as a poet and philosopher, German writer, psychologist and artist, we have to get him up into the Swiss Alps from Turin for the summer.  He left on 6 June and was still complaining about the dislocation in mid-July.  Only this time, after the personal trauma of the journey, the reasons for his misery were shared by all the early season visitors to the Upper Engadine village of Sils Maria.  The weather played such cruel tricks that some guests went home, not seeing, as Nietzsche observed, why they should pay to freeze in the snow-enveloped hotel in July when they could be more comfortable at home in Hamburg.  He took another moment of unwonted worldliness to wonder how the hotels would survive the loss of income, before allowing his own problems once again to close in.  Until the weather improved he would go through a debilitating period of depressed introspection, to which he gently attached the label melancholy.  No work would be done until August.” (page 92) 

“He had been coming to Sils and round about for more than eight years, and there had written parts of The Science of Joy, Zarathustra, Beyond Good and Evil, and The Genealogy of Morals.  So he set off in a good heart, with a new suitcase and some lean continental sausage...supplied by his mother to provide for his evening meals.  Grocery supplies in Sils were very limited, he knew from experience, and to eat in the hotel twice a day was beyond his meager budget.  The correspondence with his mother over the next month would be dominated by the need for more sausage from Naumburg, of a higher quality than the first batch which was too dry and the second which was too salty.  He also requested and received a tablecloth so that he might eat his solitary suppers in an orderly and pleasing fashion, and some Zwieback (French toast) for his breakfast, equally impossible to buy in Sils.” (page 93)

“...the problem in 1888 was that sickly Nietzsche was quite the opposite of his own ideal.  In 1888 he only sat post-chaise, queasy, locked into himself, and thinking.  The landscape passed him by.  In Sils moreover he began a bout of migraine.

“But at least he could collapse into familiar lodgings. An austere wood-pannelled upstairs room with a small window facing south, furnished with a bed, a table and washstand, he had made his own for several years now.  He rented it from the Durisch family and left 'a basket of books' each year for his return....Nietzsche often shivered in that room and several times resolved to find another warmer one, but for such troublesome things as moving he didn't have the will.” (page 94)

“Weather, because of its apparent bearing on his health, was another of his obsessions, and made even devoted Koselitz sigh.  Yet when the atmosphere lifted Sils was once again Nietzsche's perla perlissma, 'with a definite Latin quality' and 'a wealth of colors, in which it is a hundred times more southerly than Turin.'  The colors were in June the brilliant deep pink of the alpine rose and intense blue hues of gentian.  He put on the new horsehair hat bought for the purpose in Turin and walked out to inspect the damage of recent avalanches.” (page 95)

“He would have walked anywhere, though he did love Sils. He had a childlike joy in motion and that same vitality was reflected in his hardy pleasure in cold water, a quality he passed on to his 'son' Zarathustra. Nietzsche plunged into pools when others found them icily forbidding, and sluiced himself from a cold jug every morning.  Such a constitution gave him a natural kinship with Epicurus, which is to say his highly reactive body prompted him to enjoy the world, not reject it, and to admire in all ages thoughtful connoisseurs of happiness.  His physical vitality, despite his sickness, was one of his chief instinctive weapons against Christianity.” (page 96)

“High mountain metaphors, especially in Zarathustra, show Nietzsche straining after energy, grandeur, and resourcefulness, which, palpable in the material world, would also express human spiritual strengths and give inspiration for the Ubermensch, a creature undoubtedly born of the view from 'higher up' rather than the idea of dominating his fellow men.  As if to reinforce the connection between posterity between his human ideal and his ideal landscape, Nietzsche said of Sils: 'I know nothing so suited to my nature as this piece of Over-Earth [Ober-Erde].'” (pp.97-98)

“The Ubermensch was the one who could get, as far as is possible for a human being, 'beyond' the world which his humanity obliged him to contemplate. Whether Nietzsche's message is metaphysical here, suggesting some possibility of conscious transcendence, is very difficult to determine.  It was less a two-tier value system he sought to compensate for the apparent limitations of human existence, rather a better way of seeing that that existence was indeed limited.  The high vantage point gave him not a sense of the world below being inferior to some higher realm, but a sense of the sheer relativity of judgments. The paradox was that the realization of limitation was liberating.” (page 99) 

Zarathustra was a hilltop survey of the resentful spirit and the impoverished spirituality of the modern world, with its unthinking mass movements, its vengeful class antagonisms, its insensitivity to nature and poetry, its hidden and institutionalized brutalities, insipidness, false righteousness and cultural feebleness,  Nietzsche's other books exuded the spirit of the mountains too, whenever they were saying a Yes to the Over-Life, and a No to the subordinate, enslaved one.” (page 100)

“To demolish religion and philosophy as if they were rickety old buildings, he swung a lump of iron through the air, knocking through the venerated outer walls and exposing the insides as empty.  In Twilight under the heading 'What I owe to the Ancients', Nietzsche seemed to see his own explosiveness even emerging from within the Greek midst, that is, from wherever reason was breaking down:

“'I saw their strongest instinct, the will to power, I saw them trembling at the intractable force of this drive, I saw all their institutions evolve out of protective measures designed for mutual security against the explosive material within them...The Socratic virtues were preached because the Greeks had lost them...'

“I cannot doubt, given the fascination most of us feel watching buildings crumble, that Nietzsche found his huge philosophical project exciting.” (page 102)

“So far the demolition of reason.  As a self-proclaimed immoralist Nietzsche hammered away at moral philosophy too, abjuring selflessness and compassion and a fixed notion of the good.  Here too there is a kind of brutal toughness at work which repels, while a sensitive spirit sets out a cogent case behind the combative facade.  Nietzsche's famous rejection of pity (Mitleid), for instance, demonstrates how pity diminishes the integrity of the other.  If I flood another person with pity I may dull his or her ability to find strength from within, for pity is a crippling kind of sympathy which confirms misfortune and woe, expressing the idea: 'Yes, hasn't life treated you badly, you deserve to feel sorry for yourself.'” (page 103)

“There is no pity on the world of Dionysus.  Dionysian life positively celebrates human capacity by looking absurd existence in the eye.  In all this it is difficult not to side with Nietzsche.  To reject pity is not unloving, rather the contrary: it is the only way to treat the other as an equal and whole person.

“Moreover, I bring myself in here as the lingering friend because at last with the transvaluation of pity we come very close to Nietzsche as a philosopher and man.  Menacing was not only the self-pity which obviously threatened him as he lay vomiting in strange, dark rooms about Europe, without friends and without success, but also the legacy from his Pietist childhood.  We only have to remember that morally stuffy German front room in which he grew up, a devout lad at the mercy of a disappointed mother, two unmarried aunts and a grandmother, tofeel with him the desire to open all the windows and eventually blow up the vicarage....Franziska Oehler-Nietzsche's son, until he came to his independent adult senses, was pious and obedient to the  on this point of ridicule.  But, lord, how the then burst out, released by Wagner and by philosophy!  That was the explosion, the dynamite in his own life and having experienced it he knew what kind of good he wanted to bring to humanity.

“It was good.  Nietzsche's detractors overreact to the mere idea of a person not feeling pity as being somehow monstrous,  Nietzsche's new moral alchemy was more subtle, converting pity into a value which might be called 'the integrity of the personality'.  In the 'flatland' Nietzsche confronts us with social problems as fresh today as they seemed to him over a hundred years ago.” (page 104)

“'Man is something that must be overcome' was Zarathustra's teaching.  Nietzsche's position was founded on such compassion for the suffering human race, such a strong vision of misery human beings faced, that he required them to be strong in themselves.

“We have moved on heedlessly since his day.  An over-abundant or perhaps misplaced sympathy: is it not on this that the prevalent cure-all belief in social psychotherapy is founded?  Psychotherapy as an attitude of life encourages many people to assume that forces outside their doing are to blame for the disturbances within.  Does it thereby create strong, responsible individuals?
Psychotherapy has become incorporated into the Welfare State.  How Nietzsche, with his sensitivity to language, would have balked even at the name, which might be translated back into German as der Mitleidsstaat, and given a Nietzschean reading as the state which killed God.  He retaliated eloquently in advance, in Twilight, only flipping over into excess with a manic statement open to gross misinterpretation out of context: 'The sick man is the parasite of society.'

“Arrogance is built into Nietzsche's mission and his style....What comes over from a reading of Nietzsche's works of demolition is therefore actually a great love for philosophy and a fine sense of irony.  He took the whip to cant and its purveyors, but only like Christ to the erring children of God.  Nietzsche's position was a radical modesty, quite new to a philosophical tradition dominated by the self-centered 'I think therefore I am' and 'therefore the world is'.  'What do I matter!' stands over the door of Nietzsche's thinker of the future in Daybreak.  Nietzsche's radical modesty meant philosophy would never be the same again.  It could barely trust its own words.

“In Sils, having settled down, he would work on Twilight towards the end of July, pointing out the error of assuming there even existed a determining 'I', supported by something called the individual will, which then caused events to happen in the world.  The so-called inner life was murkier or perhaps simply empty:

“'The “inner world” is full of phantoms and false lights; the will is one of them.  The will no longer moves anything, consequently no longer explains anything – it merely accompanies events, it can also be absent […] And as for the ego!  It has become a fable, a fiction, a play on words: its has totally ceased to think, to feel and to will!...What follows from this? There are no spiritual causes at all.'

“'Willing seems to me to be above all something complicated, something that is a unity only as a word.' he had written in Beyond Good and Evil.  Try telling that to the hundreds of thousands of readers who have appropriated 'will to power' as the exercise of blunt, brute force.” (pp. 106-107)

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Wrestling with a Demon

We have already covered Nietzsche's close association with Richard Wagner and his wife Cosima here and here, among other places earlier in Nietzsche's life. In the final months of his sanity, Nietzsche veered off course from his Revaluation of All Values project. Cultural “strength” and the threat of “decadence” were two overarching themes which he revisited (as he would in more detail in his next work, Twilight of the Idols). It was from this perspective that he became obsessed with Wagner again or, perhaps more accurately, he chose to write about an old but constant intimacy. He had never fully dealt with his indisputable adoration (as a young professor) of the composer, nor with the falling out between the two that culminated around 1878. He devoted two short works to the subject of Wagner and his music in 1888. 

The first published piece was The Wagner Case or The Case of Wagner, in May 1888. It is a tedious attempt to demonstrate the limitations and inadequacies of Wagner as an artist. Later, Nietzsche contra Wagner (completed on Christmas Day 1888) featured excerpts from previous writings, in order to prove that the first work was part of a process of thought - not some spontaneous ravings of a disgruntled former disciple who now referred to Wagner as “one of my sicknesses.” For Nietzsche, Wagner became the epitome of cultural decadence. 

Julian Young writes: “Towards the end of the Turin spring, Nietzsche decided to take time out from work on the 'masterwork' to write The Wagner Case. Why he did this is unclear. On the one hand, he describes it as 'recreation', on another as (yet another) 'declaration of war' on Richard Wagner....The truth, I think, is that relative to the – as Nietzsche was finding – increasingly difficult task of making the Will to Power the masterpiece he wanted it to be, descent to the level of polemics was a relaxation, a release of intellectual tension. 

“War with Wagner, and all he stood for – German chauvinism, anti-Semitism, decadence in art – was, then, one motive for the work. But another, pretty clearly, was the desire to be noticed. In the 1880's Wagner remained a 'hot' cultural topic. The German Emperor (Friedrich) had declared the Wagner movement a matter of national importance. Moreover, the last of Nietzsche's works to be widely read was his Wagner at Bayreuth - a work in which he appeared as a protagonist for Wagner. Why not, then, re-enter the fray, but this time on the other side? Anything to do with Wagner, one way or the other, could be guaranteed to sell.” (Page 492) 

The Wagner Case is a relatively slight work. To someone familiar with his earlier works from Human, All Too Human onwards, most of the Wagner-critique is familiar, even tiresomely so: Wagner is the purveyor of cheap feelings of transcendence-to-bliss that offer his world-and-work-weary audience a vague substitute for the no-longer-believable 'redemption' of Christianity. (In 1888, of course, hardly anyone was familiar with those earlier works, so readers then would have found nothing tiresome in the critique.)” (page 493) 

“Wagner is an interesting case-study, Nietzsche holds, because the 'decadence' of his art sums up – and its overwhelming success proves – the 'decadence' of modernity in general....Nietzsche defines decadence as a 'neurosis' in which the 'exhausted are attracted by what is harmful to life.” (page 493) 

“Nietzsche says [Wagner] is infected by the 'decline in the power to organize' characteristic of all aspects of modern life. The result is that his works are structureless – the principle of 'infinite melody' is merely an attempt to make a virtue out of necessity. In reality Wagner is nothing more than a gifted 'miniaturist'....The 'democratization' of Western modernity has reduced it to an 'anarchy of atoms'. And since it lacks the disciplined unity of a shared morality (a 'game-plan' as I called it) that is necessary to survive in a competitive world, it suffers from 'declining life', and is moving inexorably towards collapse and death.” (pp. 494 – 495) 

“The second passage in which The Wagner Case offers something more than the routine case against Wagner is section 4, which offers 'the story of the Ring'. An analysis of the genesis and nature of his Ring cycle....Like all Wagner's operas, Nietzsche observes, the four operas of the cycle add up to a 'story of redemption'....Wagner's 'ship' struck the 'reef' of Schopenhauer's philosophy. Under Schopenhauer's spell, Wagner realized with shame that what he had done was to 'translate optimism into music'. Redemption in the Ring is thus transformed from socialist utopianism into death and nothingness – which is what makes a work of decadence par excellence.” (page 495) 

“A notable deficiency in The Wagner Case is the absence of any suggestion of any discussion, any mention, even, of The Mastersingers, Wagner's most obviously life-affirming, un-transcendentalist, celebration of a community and art flexible enough to accept novelty while preserving tradition. Even if the Ring ends up being decadent, it would be most implausible to apply that epithet to The Mastersingers. This, one suspects, is precisely why Nietzsche pretends it does not exist: its admission would destroy the simplicity of the polemical flow. 

"A further weakness in the work is the absurdity of calling Wagner a musical 'miniaturist', incapable of large-scale organization. It is true that his music is not unified by the logic of Mozart and Haydn. But...Wagner was in the business, not of following the old, but of inventing a new musical logic. Nietzsche's denying him the right to do so merely reveals, once again, his pwn innate musical conservatism. The person who really was a miniaturist was Nietzsche himself.” (page 496) 

R. J. Hollingdale echoes Young in seeing the theme of “decadence” in the heart of The Wagner Case. (page 209) “The discussion of this polemic has usually neglected to distinguish between the personal motives for Nietzsche's attack on Wagner and the substance of that attack – or even more often has ignored the substance altogether....The similarity in method between The Wagner Case and the Untimely Meditation on David Strauss has not been sufficiently noted, nor that the ungentlemanly treatment accorded Wagner is the same kind of treatment accorded Strauss, with whom Nietzsche was not personally involved: on the contrary it was assumed from the first that The Wagner Case owed its existence solely to its author's inability to forgive Wagner for once having enslaved him. Those of his friends who were still Wagnerians were offended on Wagner's behalf at the disrespectful tone of the work: 'I have given my nearest and dearest a dreadful shock,' Nietzsche wrote Brandes on the 20th October. 

“That Wagner had been dead five years – he died in February 1883 – seemed to aggravate the offense, and it was to meet the charge of apostasy against the dead Master that Nietzsche prepared Nietzsche contra Wagner, which consists of passages drawn from each of his books from Human, All Too Human to Genealogy designed to show that his opinions on Wagner had not changed since 1878, five years before Wagner's death. 

“It seems to me of some importance, then, to try to establish what The Wagner Case is about. It is, of course, an attack on Wagner, and an attack from several sides. In 1888...Wagner was in the process of deification not simply as a great composer, or even as the creator of Bayreuth, but as a man....Nietzsche knew, of course, that Wagner was no saint...Wagner also stood in high esteem as a thinker. He himself brought out his own 'collected works'...Nietzsche's protest of Wagner's 'literature' is another aspect of The Wagner Case with which no one today can have ground to quarrel. 

“A third object of attack is Wagner's ambiguity: his insistence that his music was more than just music, that is contained unspeakable depths of meaning; his obfuscation where his own work was concerned. Nietzsche contrasts the world of Wagnerian music-drama with that of Carmen and says he prefers the latter. The antithesis is so extreme that its polemic intent is obvious, Nietzsche's genuine admiration for Bizet notwithstanding: Wagner is of course a much 'greater' composer than Bizet – a fact Nietzsche never thinks of denying – but his god is Wotan, 'the god of bad weather', and with all his power and genius he cannot achieve what Bizet achieves easily: 'la gaya scienza' light-footedness; wit, fire, grace;...the shimmering light of the South; a smooth sea – perfection'. 

“Fourthly, there is Nietzsche's assertion that Wagner was an actor, and that he represented the 'arrival of the actor in the music world'. The claim is debatable but not outrageous or absurd; it is, on the contrary. One with which many would agree. 

“The gravamen of Nietzsche's polemic is, however, none of these charges; it is that Wagner is 'decadent'. There is no ambiguity about what he meant by 'decadent' in this case: he meant that Wagner was part of the artistic decadence of the latter half of the nineteenth century.” (pp. 209 – 211) 

“Wagner, the 'artist of decadence', became conscious of himself through the 'philosopher of decadence', Schopenhauer, and thenceforth followed the path he had previously followed blindly. 

“Nietzsche attempts to relate all the prominent characteristics of Wagner's nature and art to this basic thesis that he was neurotic: so, for example, he asserts that 'the musician now become the actor' and that 'this total transformation of art into play-acting...is a decided symptom of degeneration (more precisely, a form of hysteria)'. The title of the work, too, it should be noticed, refers specifically to this thesis: Wagner is a 'case'.” (page 212) 

“The virulence of The Wagner Case is, as I have noted, similar to that of the polemic against Strauss, and in both works Nietzsche is criticizing, by means of prominent figure, the Germany of his day: the difference between them is that in the case of Wagner there is a background of personal association. 

“In his last year of sanity his opposition to Wagner's world-outlook changed into antipathy towards the man himself, in the same way as the critical attitude he had adopted towards the Reich from its foundation changed into detestation of the German people as such. The cause was similar in both cases: in the later it was the failure of his countrymen to show the slightest appreciation of him or his work, in the former the humiliating sight of Wagner's increasing fame and popularity.” (page 213) 

“More than all this, Wagner's persistent association of eroticism with death was a predilection the 'decadents' knew how to appreciate: although on the deepest level a symbol for perfect sexual union, it appealed in a more literal way to a generation of writers who saw in it an expression of their own profound nihilism. 'Have you noticed,' Nietzsche asks, 'that the Wagnerian heroines have no children? - They cannot have them...Siegfried “emancipates women” - but without hope of prosperity'. This remark is not as irrelevant as it may seem....Wagner's heroines do not live for love, they die for it; and their 'redemption' is be found only in annihilation.” (pp. 214 – 215) 

Der Fall Wagner is a protest in advance at the course art was to take during the closing decade of the century; and it should be clear why Nietzsche did not draw back from the 'tastelessness' of making it: the decadence of which he accused Wagner was the most influential expression then current of the nihilistic tendency of contemporary Europe and of the Reich in particular, which he saw as the gravest danger this civilization had ever faced.” (page 216) 

Rudiger Safranski inquires: “What is decadence? For Nietzsche, it is a major cultural force, like the Dionysian and Apollonian, shaping not only the artist sphere but all areas of life. Decadence can be summed up as the attempt to draw subtle pleasures from the phantom pain of a vanished God. 'Everything that has ever grown on the soil of impoverished life, all the counterfeiting of transcendence and of the beyond, has it most sublime advocate in Wagner's art''.” (page 309) 

“Decadence is more the pleasure in pleasure than pleasure itself, and more suffering in suffering than actual suffering. Decadence is religion and metaphysics that blink.” (page 310) 

Nietzsche contra Wagner is a carefully selected collection of critical material directed at Wagner in Nietzsche's previous works. There is nothing new in it. Walter Kaufmann explains: “The book was designed to show that The Case of Wagner had not been inspired by sudden malice, and that Nietzsche had taken similar stands. Nietzsche sometimes wrote in relative haste, though the difference between the books he prepared for publication and the notes others published after his death remains considerable. Nietzsche contra Wagner is perhaps his most beautiful book, and those seeking commentary to The Case of Wagner would surely have been referred to the later, still briefer book, had they asked the author.” (page 151) 

It is worth noting that the subtitle for Nietzsche contra Wagner is “Out of the Files of a Psychologist.” This is important as it reveals that Nietzsche saw himself as much as a psychologist as a philosopher. Indeed he may not have made much distinction between the two academic disciplines with regard to his work. He had claimed to make psychological insights at least as far back as Beyond Good and Evil. The only portion of the short work not taken (and reworked, mostly shortened) from Nietzsche's previous books is the introduction, dated “Turin, Christmas 1888.” 

Here Nietzsche states his intention to prove that he and Wagner are “antipodes.” He also takes the opportunity to vent: “...this is an essay for psychologists, but not for Germans. I have readers everywhere, in Vienna, in St. Petersburg, in Copenhagen and Stockholm. In Paris, in New York – I do not have them in Europe's shallows, Germany.” Of course, the truth was that, although he was becoming better known, he still had few readers anywhere and most of those who knew him best from Germany had fallen out with him (for various reasons) long ago. So, this was Nietzsche's “all too human” whining and despair for Europe's disregard for him – reflecting his lonely state of mind just before insanity gripped him. 

Wagner remained a heavy weight upon Nietzsche, given the amount of energy and focus (will power) he devoted to the subject as he began his great revaluation of all values project, and given the fact that Nietzsche was still so obviously enamored with Wagner (his was thrilled by the overture of Parsifal in 1887, as previously mentioned) while being simultaneously repulsed by what Wagner had become in the end. A decadence of art and culture. 

A sample of Nietzsche's ramblings in The Case of Wagner should suffice before we move on. “Wagner increases exhaustion: that is why he attracts the weak and exhausted. Oh, that rattlesnake-happiness of the old master when he always saw precisely 'the little children' coming to him! “I place this perspective at the outset: Wagner's art is sick. The problems he presents on the stage – all of them problems of hysterics – the convulsive nature of his affects, his overexcited sensibility, his taste that required ever stronger spices, his instability which he dressed up as principles, not least of all the choice of his heroes and heroines – consider them as psychological types (a pathological gallery!) - all of this taken together represents a profile of sickness that permits no further doubt. Wagner is a neurosis. 

“Wagner represents a great corruption of music. He has guessed that it is a means to excite weary nerves – and with that he has made music sick. His inventiveness is not inconsiderable in the art of goading again those who are the weariest, calling back into life those who are half dead. He is a master of hypnotic tricks, he manages to throw down the strongest like bulls. Wagner's success - his success with nerves and consequently women – has turned the whole world of ambitious musicians into disciples of his secret art. And not only the ambitious, the clever too. - Only sick music makes money today; our big theaters subsist on Wagner.” (from Aphorism 5, The Case of Wagner) 

Finally, the significance of Wagner as a symbol of the wider problem of decadence in the arts and society is best exemplified in this quote: “When in this essay I declare war upon Wagner – and incidentally upon a German 'taste' – when I use harsh words against the cretinism of Bayreuth, the last thing I want to do is start a celebration for any other musicians. Other musicians don't count compared with Wagner. Things are bad generally. Decay is universal. The sickness goes deep. If Wagner nevertheless gives his name to the ruin of music, as Bernini did to the ruin of sculpture, he is certainly not its cause. He merely accelerated its tempo – to be sure, in such a manner that one stands horrified toward this almost sudden downward motion, abyss-ward. He had the naivete of decadence: this was his superiority. He believed in it, he did not stop before any of the logical implications implications of decadence. The others hesitate - that is what differentiates them. Nothing else.” (from the Second Postscript)

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Euphoria: 1888

“For the summer he went to Sils-Maria and stayed there until the 20th September, when he returned to Turin.  Apart from a relapse in the middle of the summer, he was feeling his health had improved; his spirits were lighter, and he experienced a joy in working which exceeded anything he had known before.  Had his ‘medical knowledge’ been what he claimed, he might have recognized the symptoms and perhaps, even at this late stage, done something to prevent or retard the ultimate consequences: but he did nothing and, in all probability, failed to realize there was anything to be done.

“His decline into insanity took the form of an increasingly intense feeling of euphoria culminating at last in megalomania. As early as February his letters revealed that the overcompensation of previous years was beginning to assume a somewhat heightened coloring: writing to Seydlitz on the 12th, for instance, he says:

“’Between ourselves – it is not impossible that I am the first philosopher of the age, perhaps a trifle more than that,…something decisive and fateful standing between two millennia.’

“By May he was experiencing a sensation of well-being which sent him into cries of rapture: ‘Wonder of wonders,’ he wrote Seydlitz on the 13th, ‘I have had a notably cheerful spring up to now.  The first for ten, fifteen years – perhaps even longer!’ There was no worsening of his condition until the late autumn…” (Hollingdale, page 194)

Spring and autumn were Nietzsche’s least favorite seasons because the weather conditions were so unpredictable no matter where he tried to reside.  In April 1888, he decided to try a new location, Turin, Italy.  The initial trip to Turin from Nice was a disaster. But ultimately he was pleasantly surprised by Turin and declared it to be the “solution for autumn and spring.” The trip auspiciously began with misfortune.

“Early on Easter Monday (2 April) he set out on what he fancied would be a relatively short train-trip. Instead, it turned out to be the most confused and catastrophic of any he had so far undertaken.  At Genoa he had to change to another train.  Just what happened next is not clear. Probably aided by a porter, he had his hand luggage stowed away in a compartment the then wandered off, perhaps in search of refreshment.  Returning, he absentmindedly climbed into the wrong train and soon found himself headed in the wrong direction….This mishap so unnerved him that he suffered a breakdown and had to spend the next two days in a hotel bedroom, while telegrams were dispatched to various points asking the stationmaster to recover the wayward bags. Fortunately the heavy trunk, stuffed as usual with many books, had been registered in Nice and made it safely to its destination, where is was waiting patiently to be claimed by its owner when, utterly exhausted and feeling stupid, the ‘half-blind’ professor finally reached Turin, the proud capital of the kings of Sardinia, Piedmont and Savoy who had contributed so much to the Risorgimento and the recent unification of Italy.

“It was three more days before Nietzsche was sufficiently recovered from his nerve-racking upsets to be able to write a long letter of thanks to Heinrich Koselitz in Venice.  And in what glowing terms! ‘But Turin!’ he began ecstatically. ‘Dear Friend, may you be congratulated!  Your guess is after my own heart. This is really and truly a city I can now use!’ – even though he had been greeted on his arrival by intermittent showers of icy rain.” (Cate, page 514)

“Not far from the Royal Castle, on Piazza Carlo Alberto (named after the father of the present King of Italy) Nietzsche found what he wanted – in a corner house belonging to a newspaper and bookstall vendor named Davide Fino, who was also the superintendent of the public writing-room.  The four-story room he was offered – in a house that boasted a piano! – was small but so well situated that from it tiny balcony Nietzsche could see the green hills of la collina to the south-east, and, on clear days, the Alps to the north-west.  All for a moderate price of 25 francs per month; which, as he wrote to Franz Overbeck on 10 April, enabled him to eat his main meal – usually a minestra (soup) with a meat course – in an elegant restaurant.” (page 515)

“This fortuitous change of habitat galvanized Nietzsche’s creative energies, which in Nice had begun to flag.  So too did his exchange of letters with Georg Brandes, who was so impressed by his perusal of Nietzsche’s books that he decided to give a series of lectures to the professors and students of Copenhagen University.  Astonished that a non-German should wish to honor a ‘vir obscurissimus’ like himself, Nietzsche’s wrote Brandes a long letter of appreciation, accompanied by a biographical summary of his life and works, in which he stressed the ‘indescribably close intimacy with Richard and Cosmia Wagner’ and the ‘boundless trust’ that had existed between them during the years spent at Tribschen, near Lucerne.” (pp. 515-516)

“’I am in a good mood, working from early morning to evening,’ Nietzsche wrote on 20 April in another letter to Koselitz, as full as ever with rhapsodic praise for this ‘capital discovery’ (Turin), where booksellers peddled books in three languages, and where, in an excellent trattoria, for 1 franc and 25 centimes (half the price he had to pay at Sils-Maria) he was offered a tasty meal of risotto, a sizeable roast, vegetable and bread.  Turin, moreover, was nothing less than a ‘Musik-Ort’ (music-spot), boasting twelve theaters, an academia philharmonica, a Lyceum for Music, twenty-one officially registered composers, and a multitude of teachers for different instruments.  Yes, he continued, ‘a small pamphlet on music keeps my fingers busy, I digest like a demigod despite the fact that at night the carriages rattle past: all of them indications of Nietzsche’s eminent adaptation to Torino’.” (page 516)

“As if designed expressly for his needs, Turin possessed over a kilometer of covered arcades through which he could walk in all weathers.  And the sight of the Alps, the mountain air and water, the bookshops, well-stocked in three languages, the excellent food – cheap on account of the many young people attending the university and the military academy – the serene river Po bounding the city to the East with parkland and a shaded boulevard on the other side, all occasioned ecstasies of praise.  ‘Evenings on the Po bridge’, he wrote, ‘heavenly! Beyond good and evil!!’  He loved the café life (as he had as a student in Leipzig), became a connoisseur of gelato, which he found to be ‘of the highest culture’, and loved the palm court orchestra which sometimes accompanied it.

“Nietzsche loved Turin’s rich musical life.  He listened to Rossini, Tchaikovsky, and Goldmark (‘a hundred times better than Wagner’), and congratulated the city for extending Carmen’s run at the Teatro Carignano to two months at the expense of three other operas.  And he loved the fact that operetta was available almost all the time due to the existence of two competing operetta companies.  In Turin his taste for light music became ever more indiscriminate, to the point where he loved almost anything, as long as it was the opposite of Wagnerian portentousness.” (Young, page 487)

It is noteworthy that (for various reasons): “By the beginning of 1888 Nietzsche has all but exhausted his capital, and his friends began to rally round to assist him: Deussen sent him 2,000 marks (possibly with the help of Paul Ree) and Meta von Salis gave him 1,000 francs, and with this money he paid for the publication  in September of The Wagner Case.” (Hollingdale, page 196)

“From Turin, Nietzsche’s correspondence with Brandes continued to flourish.  They agreed that modern civilization is a problem rather than a solution. Nietzsche told Brandes that Part IV of Zarathustra could well bear the title ‘The Temptation of Zarathustra’ and that it is the best answer to his doubts about Nietzsche’s critique of pity.  He told him that ‘the gold-maker’ such as himself, who makes ‘golden’ what mankind most fears and despised, is its greatest benefactor.

“The most exciting news Brandes delivered was that he had held a cycle of five lectures between Aprils 10 and May 8 devoted to Nietzsche’s entire philosophy up to and including the Genealogy, and that it had been a tremendous success, each lecture being attended by over three hundred people. Nietzsche was given to claiming that while composers without fame are like girls no one will dance with, philosophers find fame merely ‘burdensome’.  Nonetheless, bursting with joy, he reported news of the lecture series – with imaginative embellishments – to nearly every correspondent.” (pp. 487-488)

“Brandes persuaded the great Swedish playwright August Strindberg, one of the fathers of modern realistic theater, to read Nietzsche, with the result that he became an ardent fan, parroting Nietzsche’s own judgment that Zarathustra was ‘undoubtedly the most profound book man possesses’. Since Brandes had described Strindberg as ‘a true genius’, even if ‘slightly mad’, this more than anything, perhaps, persuaded Nietzsche that he had finally arrived.  A lively correspondence grew up between the two ‘slightly mad’ writers.  Nietzsche read Strindberg’s play, Pere, a domestic tragedy concerning a power struggle between husband and wife.  ‘I was deeply moved,’ he wrote Strindberg, and was ‘amazed to find a work expressing in such a grand way my own conception of love – the means are war and the ground is deadly hatred between the sexes’.” (pp. 488-489)

“By early June even the fresh air of the Alps could no longer keep the temperature from rising to a hot 31 degrees centigrade.  It was time to leave for the cool highlands of the Engadine.  After saying goodbye to the molto simpatico Davide Fino, to his wife and two daughters (with the younger of whom he liked to play four-handed compositions on the downstairs piano), Nietzsche boarded a train, which, thanks to a new rail connection, could now take him more directly via Como to Chiavenna.” (Cate, page 517)

“During the second week in August the skies cleared and for the first time in months of wintry weather, marked by rain, wind and snow, the Village of Sils-Maria at last enjoyed a tardy summer.  Nietzsche could return the two extra blankets that Frau Durisch, the grocer’s wife, had kindly lent him to keep the ‘Herr Professor’ from freezing during the chilling nights, and it was in a joyous ‘summer mood’, as he wrote to his mother, that he was now enjoying ‘the most beautiful colors I have ever seen here’ – offered in profusion by soft, snow-powdered mountains, dark green firs and larches, silvery lake waters veering in hue from emerald green and turquoise to somber black and (at sunrise and sunset) rose, scarlet red and crimson, under a sky that was ‘completely pure as in Nice’. Meta von Salis chose this auspicious moment to leave the family castle at Chur and to spend two weeks at Sils-Maria, where the thirty-three-year-old ‘Fraulein Doktor’ – the first woman ever to obtain a degree from Zurich University – accompanied the forty-three-year-old ‘cave-bear’ on long walks, and even volunteered to row her curious mentor to a tiny, insect-rich island near the Chaste peninsula, on the Silser lake. (page 519)

“Given his solitary life, Meta recalls, every interruption of his work-filled days was a special event.  She noticed, she later recalled, no signs of mental derangement at all. Nietzsche’s other walking companion was Julius Kaftan, who visited for the same three weeks in August.  Formerly a close colleague of Overbeck’s, now professor of theology in Berlin, Kaftan had known Nietzsche in Basel.  On their walks they engaged in serious philosophical conversations centering, from their opposing viewpoints, on the topic of religion – conversations which may have stimulated the writing of The Antichrist and possibly, too, Twilight of the Idols, both of which were begun very soon after his departure.” (Young, page 490)

“All summer long, when he was not correcting proofs or adding postscripts to The Case of Wagner, Nietzsche had been wrestling and a new text, eventually entitled Der Antichrist (The Anti-Christian), which was intended to be part of the first volume in a collection of four books attacking established values under the overall heading of ’Umwertung aller Werte’ (Revaluation of all Values).” (Cate, page 519)

“Two other visitors caught Nietzsche’s attention.  One was the Hamburg pianist Karl von Holten, who played a private concert of excerpts from Koselitz’ compositions…They also discussed the influential theory of musical phrasing propounded by Hugo Riemann, which, with its insistence that even the smallest musical element should be stressed and phrased, Nietzsche felt, dissolved the musical whole into its atomic elements, a typical manifestation of Wagnerian decadence.

“He also continued a long intermittent discussion of the same issue with Carl Fuchs, which had started way back in October 1884, the latter writing ten or more pages at a time.  He had become somewhat cool toward Fuchs on account of the latter’s trying to remain in good standing with the Wagnerians. Moreover, Nietzsche suspected (possibly unfairly) that as organist of the synagogue in Danzig (Gdansk), Fuchs had spoken of the Jewish service ‘in the dirties possible way’.” (Young, pp. 490-491)

The euphoria Hollingdale mentions above resulted in Nietzsche tackling several major works more or less simultaneously.  “This new burst of inspiration overpowered Nietzsche during the final week of August, when Sils-Maria was again blessed with blue skies and lovely weather.  On 7 September he wrote to Meta von Salis that his earlier report of this ‘washout’ of a summer had been overly pessimistic. For some days now, ‘driven by the spirit’ (of inspiration), he had been getting up at two o’clock in the morning to jot down the thoughts that kept racing through his head. Often he would hear Herr Durisch, his landlord-grocer, stealthily unbolt and then relock the front door as, armed with a hunting rifle, he set out to see if he could bag himself a chamois.  Unforgettable in particular had been 3 September, when he had sat down to write the Preface to his Revaluation of all Values.  ‘I then went out – and behold! the most beautiful day I have seen in the Engadine, blue in lake and sky, a clarity of air, absolutely unprecedented.’” (Cate, page 520)

“Two records of Nietzsche’s final stay in Sils allow us to step out of the perspective of his letters and catch a glimpse of how local people saw him.  A Frau Fumm recalled, in 1938, that:

“’there were three women from Geneva, a Frau Choindron with her two daughters staying with us in the Fex valley. On account of the Geneva ladies with whom Nietzsche was friendly, he came to us the whole summer twice a week fo drink fresh milk.  The friendly convalescent never spoke a great deal…In the end he sought ever more to be alone.  We had great respect for the strange man with the bushy eyebrows.  Later, he suffered headaches all the time. When he did, he walked without a hat and with large damp leaves on his forehead and head.  He would stand for a long time motionless as if rooted to the spot staring into the sky.  And when he walked, swinging his arms and legs in a strange way, everyone laughed at the poor man.’

“A second perspective is through the cruel eyes of children. A Herr Zuan, son of the local schoolteacher, told the visiting philosopher Theodor Adrono, many years later, that:

“’a band of children, to which he [Zaun] belonged, had fun by practicing throwing stones into Nietzsche’s umbrella, so that as soon as he opened it they all fell on his head.  Then he would run after the children, threatening them with the umbrella, but he never caught them.’

“In another recollection recorded in 1938, Zuan recalls that Nietzsche:

“’walked for hours every day mostly in the direction of Chaste.  There on the huge stone, known now as the Nietzsche-stone, he would sit staring thoughtfully in front of him.  And we children would then make fun of him, teasing him, pulling his red umbrella, and would try to put stones in his pocket without him noticing. For the man with the huge mustache didn’t notice what was going on around him.  We called him just ‘the idiot’.” (Young, pp. 491-492)

“On 20 September Nietzsche was at last able to say goodbye to his friends in Sils-Maria – the sympathetic Herr Durisch and his family, the gruffer manager of the Hotel Alpenrose, who did not realize that they would never again lay eyes on this hard-working, hard-hiking, often solitary luncher.  For the first time in years he did not suffer a nervous seizure during the tiring train-trip, even though, near the flooded town of Como, he had to climb down from the railway carriage and cross a narrow wooden bridge by torchlight before traveling on to Milan, where he spent the night.  He reached Turin feeling worn out, but also overjoyed by the warm welcome offered to him by his landlord, Davide Fino, his wife, his son Ernesto and the two daughters. Nothing, to his delight, had changed – neither the crisp, invigorating quality of the air nor the leafy elegance of the tree-lined avenues and river-bank, along which he liked to stride during his daily ‘promenade’.” (Cate, page 522)

Once again, he found Turin highly agreeable. “'Strange!' Nietzsche reported, 'as before, in a moment everything is in order.  Wonderful clarity, autumn colors, an exquisite feeling of well-being spreading over all things'.  The welcome in the Fino household and in his local trattoria was all that could be desired.  As before, he loved being just two minutes' walk from the magnificent castle on the Piazza Castello, loved the open-air theater where one could eat gelato while watching a performance, loved going to operetta after operetta.  For the first time in his life he had his own tailor.

“Though the weather was bad on arrival, this had no effect on either his health or productivity.  And it soon picked up, developing into a glorious autumn: from the beginning of October until well into November there was 'golden beauty, day after day, da capo'. When not working, Nietzsche played four-handed piano with Fino's twelve-year old daughter, Irene, for whom he had developed the same affection as for Adrienne Durisch.  (Sixteen-year-old Giulia, on the other hand, regarded him as weird and would sit staring at him for long periods.)  He frequently visited the excellent bookshops, browsing through new books, though never buying anything.  And, of course, he was a regular visitor to his favorite cafes, cafe Livorno in the afternoons, cafe Florio, (famous, still, for its gelato) in the evenings.” (Young, page 509) 

“By mid-November Turin’s halcyon autumn – a ‘permanent Claude Lorraine’, Nietzsche called it – was over and winter had arrived.  The Alps were already covered with a ‘light wig’.  Nietzsche acquired his first gas stove, amazed that all one had to do to get it going was light a match.  Completely free for the first tie in twenty years from the appalling attacks of headaches and vomiting, he abandoned giving health bulletins in his letters.  ‘Health’, he wrote Meta von Salis, is a ‘standpoint that had been overcome’.  In the mirror he looked ‘ten years younger’.

“Mental well-being followed the physical. Gratitude for release from pain cast a benign glow over everything. Everyone, it seemed, treated him a ‘a person of distinction’, for example, opening the door for him whenever he entered a building.  To live up to his new dignity he bought a superb pair of English leather gloves and attended the funeral of Count Robilant, the ‘best sort’ of Piedmont aristocrat, he confided to Meta.  For the first time in his adult life he felt completely at home.  His days as a nomad were over.  In Turin he felt (as Socrates did about Athens) that he had discovered ‘a place no one wants to leave, not even to walk in the countryside, a place where it is a joy just to walk along the streets! – Previously I would have held that to be impossible’.” (Young, page 523) 

This period of personal elation was the most prolific of his life, with several short but substantial works completed. “During 1888 Nietzsche worked on six short books: The Wagner Case, written in May and published in September; Twilight of the Idols and The Anti-Christ, written during August and September; Nietzsche contra Wagner, the Forward to which is dated Christmas; the Dithyrambs of Dionysus, some of which are poems dating from the Zarathustra period, and the dedication of which (to Claude Mendes) is dated the 1st January 1889; and Ecce Homo, written during the last quarter of the year.” (Hollingdale, page 199)

This was an extraordinary moment of intense, multifaceted introspective writing, reflecting a passionate but turbulent mind, glowing red hot with ideas and the need for self-expression.  But, Rudiger Safranski points out, the quality of these efforts in some ways failed to match the caliber of the works before them.  These works “...no longer developed new ideas, but generalized and particularized familiar concepts.  Nuances, objections, and contradictions fell away.  In the process, the directorial and theatrical lavishness of the presentation expanded.

“The central concerns of Nietzsche's last works are, as we might expect, the will to power in its dual version as politics on a grand scale and the individual art of living, a critique of morality based upon ressentiment, and praise of Dionysian as a means of transcending nihilist superficiality and depression....As he continually pointed out, he had burrowed inside and probed himself, looked out into the world with 'many eyes,' and observed himself in the process, peering at his many eyes with even more eyes.  He had plumbed the depths of his soul to the point of exhaustion and exhilaration.  This 'self' had become a whole uncharted continent, which he sought to explore.  All of his investigations kept leading him to the creative force that forms the basis for practical living, art, morality, and science.” (page 305)

But Hollingdale finds reason for praise, however: “The works of 1888 represent Nietzsche's final victory over the German language: the famous brevity of these last works is an effect of absolute control over the means of expression. If there is a stylistic fault is that the effects are too obviously consciously determined.” (page 199)

Before we examine Nietzsche’s collapse into insanity we will review his final major works in the order they were completed with the exception that I will combine the two works on Wagner and consider them together next.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Into Solitude: 1887 - 1888

Nietzsche wrote his Genealogy, which we have just examined, mostly during his fifth summer at Sils Maria.  At the same time, already increasingly a hermit, Fritz practically faded from the social framework.  He became what he referred to as a "cave bear."  He clung to threads of people through correspondences but now he rarely saw any of them personally.  Perhaps Elizabeth had started it all by moving to Paraguay.  For over a year now, letters were all he had known of his once beloved sister. Overbeck and Koselitz and his few lady friends saw him less and less.  He entertained individual friends and couples now and then, but the lively social Fritz of as recently as 1882 was gone. The persona of “Fritz” (playful, joking, interested in the perspective of others) became “Nietzsche” (the solemn, prophetic philosopher) only.

According to Julian Young, Nietzsche felt gloomy at the beginning of 1887 about the lack of sales of his books, his increased feeling of isolation, and the uncomfortably cold winter weather that chilled him to his bones.  During this time three things elevated Nietzsche’s life, however.

“Towards the end of January…his spirits received a lift from an unexpected quarter: a visit to Monte Carlo to hear the prelude to Parsifal. ‘Leaving aside the question of the use of such music and regarding it purely aesthetically,’ he wrote Koselitz, ‘has Wagner ever done anything better? The highest psychological awareness and definiteness with regard to what should be said, expressed, communicated, the shortest and most direct form thereof, every nuance of feeling reduced to the epigrammatic: a clarity of music as a descriptive art…and a sublime and extraordinary feeling, experience, eventfulness, of the soul at the very heart of the music which honors Wagner to the highest degree.’

“And in the notebooks he calls it ‘the greatest masterpiece of the sublime that I know’. ‘Nothing else grasps Christianity so deeply or brings one to have such intense sympathy with it’, he writes, adding that ‘no painter had painted such a dark, melancholy vision’ as do its final bars, ‘not Dante, not Leonardo’.” (Young, page 450)

“The second event that helped lift the oppression of winter was the discovery, at the beginning of February, of Dostoyevsky….In connection with the Nietzsche-Dostoyevsky affinity it is worth noticing that both men (Dostoyevsky after his mock execution and exile to Siberia) were strong opponents of ‘socialism’, ‘anarchism’, and ‘nihilism’, and that both believed in the retention and restoration of the firm, aristocratic, religiously sanctioned social hierarchy of the past. The difference, however, was that Dostoyevsky believed in a Christian aristocratic society.  This is why Nietzsche writes Brandes that while he esteems Dostoyevsky as ‘the most valuable psychological material that I know’, he is, nonetheless, ‘in a strange way thankful to him that he is quite contrary to my basic instinct’.” (page 451)

“The third, strangely cheering event was a major earthquake which claimed two thousand lives on the French Riviera as a whole….Nietzsche, as a man of Prussian bearing and training, ‘strolled’ through the town, ‘attending to people I knew who were sitting in the open, on benches or in coaches, hoping to escape the danger’. ‘I myself’, he adds, pleased to have acquitted himself well in the face of mortal danger for a second time, ‘experienced not a moment of fear – even a great deal of irony’.

“’We are living in the most interesting expectation of perishing thanks to a well-intentioned earthquake which made more than dogs howl, far and wide.  What a pleasure it is when the old house above rattles like a coffee-grinder! When the inkwell declares its independence!  When the streets fill up with terrified, half-clothed figures with shattered nervous systems.’” (page 451)

Nietzsche visited Zurich through the years as a way-station while transplanting his nomadic self between the mountains in the summer and the coast during the winter in a constant quest for the perfect temperature and humidity.  He was only there for a week at the beginning of May 1887. His social competence thrived in that city but there was little to engage him this time, perhaps reinforcing his journey into solitude.

“Mostly, as we have seen, Nietzsche had had good times in Zurich, times of, for him, unusual sociability. On this occasion, however, though Overbeck came over from Basel for a couple of days, he found it hard to catch up with people.  Meta von Salis was under pressure to finish her doctoral thesis while at the same time needing to help her sister refurbish her house, recently gutted by fire.  He did manage to meet up with Resa von Shirnhofer, but only after she returned from Paris at the end of his stay.  Like him, she had discovered Dostoyevsky, which led to an intense discussion about House of the Dead.” (page 453)

That summer, Nietzsche wrote in short, sharp bursts of energy, much as he had since undertaking Zarathustra in 1883. The Good European provides useful a chronology of Nietzsche’s life.  It has an extended entry for July 10-17: “N composes the bulk of On the Genealogy of Morals, the manuscript of which is mailed to C.G. Naumann on July 17. (The third treatise is revised some weeks later in August.) N is pleased by the news that Johannes Brahms has been avidly reading his Beyond Good and Evil. He works on his final musical composition, “Hymn to Life,” based on his and Lou Andreas-Salome’s “Hymn to Friendship”…the “Hymn to Life,” his only published score, is printed by Fritsch at the end of October.  N takes his noonday meal at the Hotel Alpenrose in Sils, where the group surrounding Meta von Salis (including Fraulein Mansuroff and Mrs. Flynn) provides some companionship.” (page 239)

Curtis Cate offers splendid details of Nietzsche’s life in the autumn of 1887. “On September 20…Nietzsche left the chilly highlands of the Upper Engadine and descended via the familiar route and railway stations of Chiavenna and Como to sea-borne Venice.  Despite an electrifying thunderstorm over Lake Como, the trip was relatively painless, while the Adriatic air of Venice seemed to him on arrival of an ‘elastic limpidity’.  He found his favorite maestro (Heindrich Koselitz, alias ‘Pietro Gasti’) luxuriously lodged, fed and cared for by a noble Venetian family, and so completely recovered from his previous morosity that he was delighted to help Nietzsche correct the proofs of his new book.

“Nightmarish, in comparison, was the next train-trip (from Venice to Nice) – brutally interrupted by a breakdown in a dark tunnel between Milan and Genoa, which unleashed violent headaches.  But these were soon dispelled by the ‘intoxicating’ air of Nice and the warm welcome he received at the Pension de Geneve. For a special price of 5 ½ francs per day (2 ½ francs less than the cheapest rate for others) he was given a north-facing room where it was often so cold that Nietzsche suffered from ‘blue fingers’ in the morning. Heeding his mother’s sensible advice, he finally hired a small stove: or what (in a letter to Koselitz) he called a ‘fire-idol’ and around which, once lit, he ‘leaped and pranced’ in a dance of pagan jubilation.” (Cate, pp. 509-510)

Despite his concern for how poorly his books sold, Nietzsche was slowly becoming more widely known. “Before the month of November was over he received a moving letter of thanks – for gift copies of The Genealogy of Morals and Beyond Good and Evil - from George Brandes, a Danish literary critic who had read Nietzsche’s two latest books, as well as Human, All Too Human, without recoiling in horror, Brandes declared that he had found the books ‘the breath of a new and original spirit.  I do not yet fully understand what I have read; I do not always know towards what issue you are headed.  But there is much that accords with my own thoughts and sympathies – the contempt for ascetic ideals and the deep indignation against democratic mediocrity, your aristocratic radicalism. Your scorn for the morality of compassion is something I have not yet been able to fathom….You belong to the few people with whom I would like to talk.’

“It is easy to imagine the thrill with which Nietzsche read and reread this extraordinary letter.  Here, clearly, was an authentic Freigeist who was not afraid to speak his mind, to praise and to avow perplexity, and who, in just two wonders - aristocratic radicalism - had grasped the very essence of his philosophy. Fate, which had treated him so harshly, was now at least beginning to relent, confirming what he had long suspected: that, in accordance with the adage – ‘a prophet is not without honor save in his own country’ – the recognition he so desperately craved would come to him first of all from non-Germans.” (pp. 510-511)

But even as he saw a glimmer of hope for his work to become more widely known Nietzsche felt increasingly isolated, even expressing some regret regarding his lack of intimate companionship.  “He wrote his mother form there on October 18, 1887.  His missive betrayed the effects of protracted solitude, and it included the following barbed words: ‘The fact that ever since my childhood I never heard a profound and understanding word – such is my lot, and I do not remember ever having complained about it’.  On October 22 he departed Venice for Nice, where, however, the sense of isolation only increased.  His final, desperate effort to salvage his friendship with Erwin Rohde, in a letter written on November 11, 1887, ended with the words, ‘I now have forth-three years behind me, and I am every bit as alone now as I was when a child’. The next day he wrote to Overbeck:

“’When I exclude Richard Wagner there is no one who ever came to me with a thousandth part of passion and pain in order to reach ‘an understanding’ with me.  I was alone in this respect even as a child, and am still so today, in my forty-fourth year of life.  The terrifying decade I have now put behind me gave me a generous taste of what it means to be alone, of reclusion to an extreme degree: the isolation and defenselessness of an infirm man who has no means of protecting himself, or even ‘defending himself.’…The best thing I can say about is that it made me more independent; perhaps also harder and more contemptuous toward my fellows than I would like to have been.  Fortunately, I have enough of the esprit gaillard in me to laugh at myself concerning these reminiscences, as I laugh at everything that touches only me; further, I have a task that does not allow me to worry much about myself (a task or destiny, call it what you will).  This task made me ill, and it will make me healthy again; not only healthy but also friendlier toward my fellows, and whatever else pertains to that.’” (The Good European, pp. 201-202)

Music was still vital to Nietzsche's life and one of his few remaining social pleasures.  He frequented concert halls and maintained a special affinity for Bizet's great opera. “Shortly before Christmas, Nietzsche had attended his fourth performance of Carmen in the Nice Opera’s newly opened Italian theater.  Once again it was a ‘true event – I learnt and understood more in these four hours than in the previous four weeks’, he wrote, sounding his often-repeated theme that music, or at least musical mood, emotion, gives birth to thought.  Reflecting on the same experience a month later, he wrote Koselitz: ‘Music now gives me sensations as never before.  It frees me from myself, it sobers me up from myself, as though I survey the scene from a great distance, overwhelmed.  It strengthens me…and every time, after an evening of music, I am full of resolute insights and thoughts the following morning.  It is very strange. It is as though I had bathed in some natural element. Life [and evidently thought] without music is simply a mistake’.  Notice, once again, Nietzsche’s continuing attachment to the experience of self-transcendence through music.” (Young, pp. 458-459)

1887-88 seems to be the time he became more self-critical, something that would culminate in his work Ecce Homo in late 1888.  “Among Nietzsche’s many preoccupations during the final winter in Nice and spring in Turin was the fear – which we have already seen in a letter to Overbeck – that he was becoming too hard-of-heart, too harsh in his judgments.  Even though Zarathustra had counseled ‘Become hard!’ Nietzsche feared the excess of hardness, the advance of brittleness, that he sensed in himself.  On February 1 he confided to Koselitz:

“’To lack health, money, reputation, love, protection – and for all that not to become a tragic growly bear; this is the paradox of my current situation, its problem.  A state of chronic vulnerability has come over me, on which, in my good moments, I take my revenge in a way that is not really that flattering, namely, though an excess of hardness. Witness my last book [On the Genealogy of Morals].  Even so, I take all this with the cleverness of an astute psychologist without the slightest moral prejudice: oh, how instructive it is to live in so extreme a state as mine! Only now do I understand history; I’ve never had such profound eyes as in the past few months.’” (The Good European, page 203) 

It was during this time that Nietzsche's plan for his primary life work took more concrete form, which he felt almost as a weight upon him - his life's 'task.' “The year 1888 began, as its predecessor had finished, cold. Sitting in his room in the Pension de Geneve, redecorated with his own choice of dark, reddish-brown wallpaper, Nietzsche found the stove imported from Naumburg ‘de rigueur’ with respect to the otherwise intractable ‘blue-finger’ problem. Seated at his large writing table he had begun serious work on what was intended to be the main event of his life, the production of his ‘systematic masterwork’, The Will to Power, to which all his previous works were the mere prelude.  This was to be a four-volume work of ‘extreme’ and ‘rigorous seriousness’ that would provide a grounding and synoptic exposition of his entire philosophy.  By February 13 he had completed the first detailed plan (with the title now altered to Attempt at a Revaluation of All Values).  But though he continued to work steadily, he suffered from diarrhea and insomnia, with his spirits – not improved by failing to win the half-million-franc prize in the Nice lottery – under the weather.

“Since many of his fellow guests were, like him, hoping the Nice climate would ameliorate their various conditions, dinner-table conversation in the pension centered on climate and health.  A lady from Berlin, for example, suffering from ‘a kind of melancholic desperation’ at home and scarcely able to leave the house, had, she claimed, been completely cured by the dry air of Nice.  A short sharp ‘change of air’, Nietzsche agreed, had much to recommend it.

“As well as the right climate, a rigorous and unchanging daily routine was, he felt, essential: to bed at nine, up at six-thirty, tea with two rusks, an hour’s walk in the morning, lunch at noon, three hours walking in the afternoon, always the same route, dinner at six, no wine, beer, spirits, or coffee, always the same, day after day.

“To relieve the monotony, at the beginning of January he took himself off to another concert in Monte Carlo. This, however, proved a disaster: César Franck and other ‘modern French music or, to speak more clearly, bad Wagner…nervous, brutal, insufferable, demanding, and boastful – and so tarted up’.  It was, he concluded, pure ‘decadence’, just like Baudelaire – ‘libertine, mystical, ‘satanic’, but above all Wagnerian’. A couple of months later, on the other hand, he was charmed by three pieces by Offenbach, ‘buffoonery but in the form of classical taste, completely logical…wonderfully Parisian’, a comment manifesting the ever-increasing taste for light music that marked the final year of his sanity.” (Young, pp. 485-486)

“The four months Nietzsche spent in Nice, from early December of 1887 to the end of March 1888, were the happiest he had yet known at the Pension de Geneve. For the first time in eight successive winters he was spared the ‘blue-fingered’ torments of early morning frosts, thanks to the crackling benevolence of his ‘fire-idol’ stove.  There was a notable improvement in the quality of the food he was offered in the pension’s dining-room, where his most stimulating conversational partner was Baroness Plankner. Related to a court chamberlain serving with the Crown Princess Victoria, she kept Nietzsche well informed of the frail health of imperial Germany’s greatest political hope for the future: the anti-Bismarkian Crown Prince Friedrich, who spent this winter at nearby San Remo, trying to recover from a throat-cancer operation.

“Thanks to a strict diet – no wine, no beer, no alcoholic spirits, no coffee – thanks to long walks (one hour in the morning, three in the afternoon), and thanks to many bright, cloudless days, Nietzsche’s physical sufferings (with headaches and vomiting) were relatively mild.  But, as he confessed to his mother in mid-February, spiritually he was a ‘brave’ but also ‘sick animal’, apt to display a ‘ridiculous and wretched vulnerability’ to shameless superficial reviews of his books.  Equally upsetting was the ‘unbearable tension’ from which he suffered ‘night and day, brought about by the task that lies upon me and the absolute ill-will of all my previous acquaintances towards the solution of such a task.’

“The daunting task Nietzsche had imposed upon himself was nothing less than the completion of a four-volume work intended to supply the crowning arch or dome to the philosophical ‘temple of the future’ he wanted to erect, of which (as he had once written to Malwida von Meysenbug) the Zarathustra ‘trilogy’ was merely an ornamental ‘entrance hall’. This new series, as later planned, was to appear under the overall title, ‘The Will to Power’ (Wille zur Macht) – with the subtitle, An Attempt at a Revaluation of all Values.  Each volume was to consist of three parts, thus resembling The Genealogy of Morals.  In this first, entitled ‘What is Truth?’, Nietzsche proposed to analyze the ‘psychology of error’, to judge the relative worth of ‘truth’ and ‘error’, and finally to demonstrate how the ‘will to truth’, when properly understood, helped to justify the positive ‘yes-value of Life'.  In the second book, devoted to ‘The Origin of Values’, he proposed to deal, more thoroughly than ever before, with 1) his old enemies, the ‘metaphysicians’, 2) the ‘hominess religiosi’ (by which Nietzsche meant persons who are genuinely religious and not merely robed or bearded ‘dispensers of the faith’, and 3) ‘The Good Ones and the Improvers’ – a diatribe against Christian optimists naively bent on improving a wrecked world.  (A fragment of his thinking on this question was later incorporated in Gotzen-Dammerung – Twilight of the Idols.  The third book, aggressively titled ‘The Battle of Values’, would begin with ‘Thoughts on Christianity’ (later developed by Nietzsche in The Anti-Christian); would continue with a study of the ‘physiology of Art’ (i.e. an analysis of ‘healthy’, as opposed to ‘sickly’ art); and would be rounded out with a ‘History of European Nihilism’. The series would then rise to the majestic climax of the fourth volume (‘The Great Midday’), the first part of which hammered home the unpalatable truth that every genuine culture and civilization depends upon accepted Rangordnung (Order of Rank) between power-wielders and subjects.” (Cate, pp. 511-512)

But as this great 'task' took generalized form, Nietzsche, already in a mode of self-critique, hesitated. “Throughout the cold but sunny winter weeks Nietzsche wrestled with his self-imposed ‘task’, torn between an impatient desire to ‘get on with the job’ and a monitory feeling that, in trying to go too fast, he would undermine the solidarity of what he was trying to build.  So disturbing were these contradictory forces that he kept altering the initial outline of March 1887.  He even decided to scrap the overall title, Der Wille zur Macht (The Will to Power), realizing that in the super-patriotic climate of the Second Reich, with its intoxicating ‘Deutschland! Deutschland uber Alles!’ rhetoric, his four-volume magnum opus would be misinterpreted as a philosophical endorsement of Bismarck’s Blut und Eisen (blood and iron) policies.” (page 513)

In the spring of 1888, he visited Turin for the first time.  It would profoundly affect him and would ultimately lead to an explosion of writing - much of which was directed away from the weight of his self-appointed task.  It was as if he dreaded fleshing out the grand ideas forming in his mind or he was simply distracted as his mental abilities took a turn toward megalomania.  Before examining the prolific nature of his final works, we will take a closer look at Nietzsche in Turin and the final, prolific summer at Sils-Maria in my next post.