Monday, January 1, 2018

The Making of Friedrich Nietzsche: Part Two

Nietzsche arrived at Bonn with his good friend Paul Deussen.  It was partly because Deussen wanted to attend Bonn himself that Nietzsche chose that institution.  Not long afterward he became a fraternity “party” boy.  “Finding himself rootless and ignorant in a new city, Nietzsche, together with Deussen, sought out former classmates and found that a host of these had joined fraternity called Franconia.  On October 23, the Sunday after their arrival, the two young men were invited to a tavern and given a recruitment pitch by Georg Stockert, their former dorm-mate at Pforta.  Drinks were surely served, and the bar setting would have encouraged camaraderie and group dynamics.  By the day’s end Nietzsche, Deussen, and six others had signed up as pledges.  The recruiter no doubt stressed what the neophytes needed to hear – that the fraternity promised continuity, community, and enlightenment on the local scene.  Given the tavern setting, he probably did not need to describe the more roughhewn aspects of the fraternity – that they were notoriously rowdy and associated with drinking, fencing, and all kinds of festivity.  Frat boys got together nightly with their pipes to vie in beer contests, speeches, and song.” (pp. 183-184)

Soon after beginning his studies at Bonn, Nietzsche discovered a philosopher to who had a major impact on his life, Arthur Schopenhauer.  “He states that the aftermath of reading The world as will and representation he berated himself in ‘bitter, unjust, and unrestrained’ reproach and prescribed himself bodily penances.  For fourteen days in a row he never went to bed before 2 a.m. and then rose exactly at 6.  Later he would admit, only ‘the seductions of life, of vanity, and enforced regular study’ saved him from becoming ascetically unhinged.” (page 222)

Schopenhauer brought, among other things, the idea of philosophy as a possible life path and alternative to philology.  “Of course Nietzsche had read quite a bit of philosophy before but in a desultory fashion as shown by the influences to which he had been exposed: Christian apologetics, contemporary materialism, Feuerbach, Strauss, a few dialogues by Plato, and insights gleaned from the histories given by Schaarschmidt and Fortlage.  This collection lacks unity and suggests proportionately little sense of commitment or opportunity for progress.  By contrast, Nietzsche committed himself almost religiously to Schopenhauer, and even if he shortly saw through various aspects of his master, he did not shy from fundamental allegiance and single-minded investigation of his doctrines, Schopenhauer gave him a philosophic center of gravity, and the increasing sophistication he displays in both reading and letters suggests a confidence and burgeoning ability which he probably owed to development along a single path.” (pp. 222-223)

At Bonn, Nietzsche most admired the professorship of Friedrich Ritschl though he only took one or two classes under him.  They struck up a personal association and Nietzsche’s interest in philology peaked.  His life seemed to take on more definition. “Schopenhauer had given him a sense of spiritual foundation.  Ritschl offered a practical path and a career.  The Philological Society provided a ready source of suitable friends, and the household of his professor conferred a second family, inducting him into a more good-humored but disciplined world than any he had known.  Only a passionate relationship – or, at least, an intense male friendship – was lacking, and that too was soon to come.” (page 229)

Erwin Rohde became that close friend that, somehow, Deussen never quite was.  Nietzsche soon fell out of interest in the “party” fraternity activities as quickly as he had fallen into that lifestyle.  Apparently, it was just another life experiment for him.  More importantly, he was disappointed with the University of Bonn.  Both himself and Rohde felt the University if Leipzig had a stronger philology department, especially since Ritschl just accepted a position on the faculty there.  It turned out that Nietzsche, Rohde and Ritschl all moved more or less together to the University of Leipzig in 1866. 

“The two men had moved separately to Leipzig, and Rohde joined the Philology Society in mid-August 1866, although he and Nietzsche began to socialize the month before.  While the men were frequently together over the following months, they seem not to have been close until March 1867…Rohde records that they then had a breakthrough of sorts, which depended in June when they took horseback riding lessons together.  The following months were among the personally richest in both men’s lives. ‘We led an amazing existence all summer,’ Rohde wrote, ‘as though in a wandering magic circle, not closed outwardly in an unfriendly way, but associating almost exclusively with one another.’

The friendship with Rohde grew stronger.  “On the surface the two had much in common.  Rohde too had been smitten with Schopenhauer, and the men shared with that philosopher a saturnine temperament and a skeptical view of the so-called pleasures of life.  Both were emotionally labile – it was in defense against this instability that Nietzsche exerted so much discipline – but Rohde was perhaps more directly passionate, as his literary interests suggest.” (page 249)

But the change in schools did not generate renewed interest in philology.  Though he excelled at that scholastic discipline, it did not satisfy him.  “In fact, Nietzsche was not a ‘true philologist’ at all, as he would himself acknowledge in the future and as he must have known in 1866.  He might be a good one and he might enjoy its practice, but he hardly qualified as once who was ‘called’ to that profession.  Rather, he would observe, he had chosen it as an interim measure which would bring discipline and order to his life. ‘I longed for a counterweight to my shifting and restless nature of my earlier inclinations, for a field that would be advanced with cool sobriety, with logical iciness, with steady work, without the results directly touching the heart.  All of this I then thought to find in philology.  His ‘calling’ was not his ‘life’s task,’ but a substitute for one, a pose that he tried to make good.” (page 253)

As mentioned in part one, throughout his youth and into early adulthood, Nietzsche did not live in a solitary fashion as he did late in his life.  He was a social person who preferred few special friends.  Rohde remained of singular importance. “Nietzsche was not averse to festivities, and he enjoy himself considerably that spring and summer [1867].  He, Rohde, and members of the Philological Society frequented the Schutzenhaus, a spacious dining establishment with multiple decks, both indoors and outdoors, where they drank, dined, and listened to concerts.  Along, the two young men took walks in the Rosental, a park south of the university, where they sat on the banks of the river Pleisse and baptized an especially placid spot ‘Nirvana.’  They also spent evenings in the theater and later would exchange letters regarding notable actresses.  Rohde recalled that during the summer the pair spent half and even full days in ‘real laziness,’ idle times that in his eyes brought ‘the richest profit.’  Profitable or not, all this entertainment, coupled with Nietzsche’s preparation for a lecture to the Philological Society on Homer and Hesiod, took its toll.  As August 1, the deadline for the Diogenes Laertius paper approached, Nietzsche found himself seriously behind.  Fortunately, he was adept at quick composition, and late into the deadline’s eve and ‘with not another hour to be lost,’ he wrote down his findings and ran with the manuscript to the home of his friend.  Rohde was waiting with glasses and wine.” (page 267) 

In late 1867, increasingly disenchanted with his field of study, Nietzsche signed up for one year of military service in a Prussian artillery unit near his mother and sister at Naumberg.  “One might expect Nietzsche to dislike military service, since it was unsuited to his talents and it removed him from his friends.  Instead, in the beginning at least, he proved acquiescent and even appreciative.  This partly reflected as admiration for the army that had begun in childhood when he enjoyed watching soldiers at their drills.  This esteem was reinforced in 1866 when he cheered the Prussian troops during war.  In the aftermath of that conflict, he wrote [Carl von] Gersdorff, who was under arms, that to switch to military life after academia seemed a healthy alternative, for it offered ‘an effective contrast’ to school.” (page 271)

“He had been assigned to a cavalry artillery unit, and although he frequently wrote about horses and even kept a little list of equine anatomy in his notebooks, he rarely mentioned munitions in his letters and not at all in his private papers.  With his poor eyesight, he was unlikely a good shot, and if he had been skilled with powder and shells he would have said so.  He did claim to be liked – ‘Everyone here from the captain to the gunners wishes me well’ – and he was told that as a horseman he had the best seat in the unit, a compliment of which he was understandably proud.” (page 272)

“In early March, 1868, five months into his service, Nietzsche suffered a serious accident.  He had been housebound throughout the winter and when spring arrived, he was anxious to resume horseback riding.  One day, while working with what he called ‘the most fiery and unruly animal in the battery,’ he tried to leap upon its back and missed, his chest striking the front of the saddle.  He sensed a quivering tear on his left side but tried to ignore it.  After a day and a half of mounting pain he twice fainted; and on the following day he found himself ‘almost nailed to the bed’ with severe pain and high fever.  The military doctor discovered that he had torn a couple of muscles and bruised the breastbone.  It was soon evident that he also suffered from internal bleeding and infection.  For ten days Nietzsche endured pain, fever, and eventually enterogastritis.  Not only was the bleeding internally, but the pus exuding from the infection was subcutaneous as well and had no way to exit.  The doctor had to cut repeatedly through the skin in order to leech it, and eventually a drainage canal was installed so that the liquid could discharge externally.  During this time Nietzsche received morphine nightly so that he could sleep, and his letters indicate that he occasionally passed out.  Writing Ritschl, he stated that he had to relearn how to walk.  Worse, his wounds did not heal, and eventually physicians diagnosed damage to the sternum." (page 286)

His thirst for knowledge remained strong and he was published in a minor scholarly journal.  “On April 1, a little over a month after the accident, he received his only military promotion, from private to private first class.  Such an advance might be viewed as ironic since, given his pain and weakness, Nietzsche was surely incapable of performing any military duties.  Instead, he seized the opportunity to rechannel his sufferings into an extraordinary burst of productivity.  Unaware of the accident, Rohde had sent him a study ‘The ass,’ a work at the time attributed to Lucian and he asked for comments.  Despite his medical condition, Nietzsche obliged, writing a half a page critique, while citing authorities and correcting infelicities in his friend’s presentation.  During the following month (between April 3 and May 12), he read a dissertation on Kant’s view on freedom of the will,” reviewed and edition of Hesiod’s Theogony for a Leipzig journal, added an addendum to his Diogenes Laertius article, gathered materials for a proposed dissertation, ‘The concept of the organic since Kant,’ and he reworked his Simonides essay into an article for the Rheinisches Museum.” (pp. 286-287)

Nietzsche met Richard Wagner, the man who would most influence is late-youth, following his military service and return to the University of Leipzig.  Wagner highly-regarded the young philology student.  “Wagner could be extraordinarily entertaining, and he charmed Nietzsche that night, making fun of effete conductors, the Leipzig dialect, and university philosophers, even as he confided that he too was an aficionado of Arthur Schopenhauer.  He also played and sang passages from Meistersinger both before and after dinner, and at the evening’s end he read autobiographical accounts of his student life in Leipzig – stories that so amused Nietzsche that he could not think of them afterward without laughing.  Wagner also invited the young man to visit him at his villa on Lake Lucerne…” (page 300)

As Nietzsche gravitated toward Wagner and Schopenhauer, his fading interest in philology, despite already being a published scholar, manifested itself aggressively as distaste toward Professor Ritschl.  “Within two weeks of that dazzling evening, he was reading Opera and drama, a manifesto by the composer; and at the end of January 1869 he would attend a performance of Die Meistersinger in Dresden.  He further found in Schopenhauer characterizations of ‘the genius’ which be believed eminently suited to Wagner.  He may not at the time have envisioned meeting the great man again, but his imagination had been inflamed.  He may also have begun subtly to reconsider his loyalties, for this was a period in which his anger with Ritschl boiled over so badly that for the first time he made his displeasures known even to the professor himself.” (page 301)

“Ritschl’s shock during the meeting with Nietzsche shows that he was largely and perhaps wholly unaware of the distance his pupil had traveled over the preceding fifteen months.  In his eyes, the young man was still his loyal student.  He certainly did not know that the latter had recently referred to him as ‘a pander for philology,’ an insult referring to his habit of wooing students through praise and interesting projects.  Nietzsche’s process of disenchantment have developed largely in the lonely precincts of Naumberg – far from the reach of the teacher.  When, as would shortly occur, Ritschl would warmly endorse this pupil, he would be unaware of the latter’s recent disillusionment.” (page 302)

Nietzsche’s verbal diatribe against Ritschl did not lessen the professor’s appreciation for Nietzsche’s talent in philological scholarship.  “One month after the confrontation with his protégé, Ritschl received a letter from Adolf Kiessling, a former student who taught classical philology at the University of Basel.  Kiessling had accepted a job [and] brought up the name of Friedrich Nietzsche, whose articles he had seen in the Rheinisches Museum, and Ritschl commended hi pupil in the strongest terms.” (page 303)

“Ritschl had believed himself obliged to inform Nietzsche of his possible appointment, for Basel needed to know whether he was amenable before proceeding.  Nietzsche, hearing the news, believed that he had no real choice but to consent.  However, his emotional response was from the beginning mixed – he describes himself as both pleased and dismayed – and ultimately negative.  He was flattered by the expected stroke of good fortune.  He was also shocked and eventually angered by this early and to him premature promotion into the grim world of professional responsibility.  At the very point when, in his own mind, he had stepped onto a grander stage, outgrowing philology as currently practiced, Ritschl had remanded him to a world he found pinched and dreary.”  (page 305)

Carl von Gersdorff also became close to Nietzsche during this time, often socializing with Rohde as well.  “A letter to Gersdorff is more revealing.  ‘My dear friend,’ it begins, ‘the final deadline has arrived, the last evening I will spend in my home; early tomorrow it’s out into the wide wide world…in a difficult and oppressive atmosphere of duty and work.’  The writer worries that he will become a ‘philistine,’ a dull and blinkered member of the adult world that students like to mock.  Nietzsche believes that his philosophic seriousness will preserve him from so dire a fate, but certain forms of professional deformation will take their toll.  He is clearly aware of doors about to close, and the best he can hope is to communicate this sense of ‘the true and essential problems of life and thought’ to his students. ‘[L]et us try to use this life so that when we are happily redeemed from it, others will bless it as worthwhile.’” (page 312)

This last acclamation betrays that Nietzsche still sought to be “redeemed” in his life, to strive for and attain something that would allow him to live so others would “bless” his work as “worthwhile.”  Philology was a clear talent, Nietzsche was remarkably gifted in classic literature, totally competent in Greek among other languages.  Philology provided Nietzsche with a pursuit other than theology, the profession his family expected him to pursue.  But this act of rebellion ultimately failed to satisfy him.  He was more interested in music and poetry and philosophy than he was ancient languages.

Yet, before he could escape the promise of his great talent, he was offered a professorship in philology.  It was too good of an opportunity to turn down.  So, he entered his profession as a rising star, never having written his dissertation nor even taken his exit exams.  Seemingly in a flash, he was Herr Professor, Dr. Nietzsche, wonder student made teacher.  He still quested for some purpose in his life.  The path he took was not the Christian path, but he needed something to fill the void that his former religion once filled in his life.  He thought he might have found it in Wagner and his music and Schopenhauer and his philosophy but something still wasn’t right.  The void left by Christianity remained, and that void would remain for almost a decade to come.  

Of course, that last part is merely my personal perspective and remains beyond the purview of The Making of Friedrich Nietzsche.  But Blue’s research and perspective brings Nietzsche’s youth into sharper focus.  He was very different in many ways from who he would become, but the groundwork for his ultimate inward quest was already laid and his passion for truth and its application to life was burning bright with youthful exuberance in spite of his acceptance, due to mere circumstances, of a career that ultimately failed to satisfy him.  We can thank Daniel Blue for showing us this.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

The Making of Friedrich Nietzsche: Part One

In the spirit of “eternal recurrence,” it seems fitting to follow the account of Nietzsche’s death with a look back at his youth.  The Making of Friedrich Nietzsche, written by Daniel Blue, was published in 2016.  It offers many insights into Nietzsche’s student years prior to his professorship at Basel.  Most of this information was previously unavailable to me when I started this philosophical biography back in 2008.  As such, it is a welcome resource peering into the formative years of his mind and personality.

For all the discussion about the impact that the death of Nietzsche’s father had on his youth, Blue reveals that Nietzsche, being so young, barely knew his father.  The larger impact was made by the expectations Nietzsche’s family placed upon him in light of his father’s religious calling.  More specifically, it was Nietzsche’s mother who impacted his preschool youth more than any other singular force.  Blue’s discussion of this reveals much of Nietzsche’s personality at the time.

“In Franziska’s eyes, all was not well with her son.  She worried that he was shy and fearful, and she sought to ‘toughen him up’ (her words) by making him do things for himself and by dosing him with cold water in summer.  She also worried that he was becoming ‘pedantic,’ by which she apparently meant that he was inordinately devoted to rules.  [Elizabeth] Forster-Nietzsche tells several stories about her brother which, even if exaggerated, illustrate what his mother had in mind.  In what is probably the best known of her anecdotes, she records an occasion when heavy rain erupted, just as school was dismissed.  A swarm of boys raced through the downpour, while Friedrich walked through the torrents at a stately pace, his cap and handkerchief pressed protectively over his slate and books.  Asked what he was thinking, he explained that the school rules called for boys never to jump or run in the street but always to walk decorously to their homes.” (pp.40-41)

“…a well-behaved boy, who met the expectations of others, but only because he himself approved the deed and not because some authority figure said so.  This rather passive-aggressive form of obedience had two consequences.  Friedrich really was well-behaved, as report cards show: he repeatedly received the highest grades in deportment.  His consciousness of always being right may also have been reflected in a dignified bearing which seems to have been distinctive to him all his life and which was already evident in these early years.” (page 57)

His family was deeply religious and, by default, Nietzsche attended church services and participated in various Christian activities through the year.  He was a Christian but with an important catch.  It was his choice, his control, an idea he looked at far more critically than one might expect given his upbringing.  It seems, somewhat surprisingly, that he never truly took the religion to heart.  
“It is striking, however, that in his memoirs Friedrich says virtually nothing about personal participation in prayer or services, nor does he mention a single religious book he read or a church figure who influenced him.  Indeed, were it not for one oblique sentence in his 1858 autobiography, readers would never know that he was destined for the ministry at all.  Not only does he never state this except for the one time mentioned, but several documents created during his childhood suggest decidedly irreligious tendencies.” (page 58)

Though surrounded by the trappings and rituals of religion, Nietzsche’s first true passion, his initial form of self-expression, was not found there but, rather, in poetry.  “…the final months of 1855 – he broke new ground by composing poems, a development which arguably figures among the most important events in his life.” (page 65)

“Poetry could have been another pastime that he entertained before proceeding to another interest, as he had with board games, theater and drawing.  Instead, this first collection seems to have awakened him to powers that he found inscrutably exciting.  Not all the poems he wrote were successful, and some seem technical exercises practiced by someone honing skills.  These failed poems indicate more clearly than inspired works that Friedrich worked at poetry, that he did not wait for inspiration to strike but kept to his task doggedly, like a pianist practicing scales.” (page 69)

After poetry came his passion for musical composition.  “Friedrich may also have written less poetry in 1857 because this was the year in which he began seriously to compose music.  The boy had received piano lessons earlier (it is difficult to determine the date) but he was perhaps too young to benefit at that time, for this instructions seems not to have excited much interest, and it was discontinued.  In 1854, however, inspired he said by a church performance of the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s ‘Messiah’ and probably [his friend] Gustav’s growing skill with the violin, Friedrich enthusiastically embraced music.  Franziska encouraged this, and although she had already learned to play the piano as a girl, she took lessons herself from a local cantor and passed her learning on to the boy.  When she moved to the new home by the Marien Gate, she purchased a new piano and had her son taught by ‘the best teacher in Naumburg,’ a woman, who is never named.  At this point, Friedrich’s musical interests and abilities seemed finally to bloom coherently and he began to make sustained progress.” (page 76)

“Friedrich was sufficiently skilled that he could play four-hand Haydn sonatas with his mother…, and he began to compose, turning out a succession of pieces, some with grand titles such as ‘sonata,’ others described merely by their tempos.  It is striking that, as with poetry, the boy was no sooner smitten with a field than he tried to participate in it himself, and active approach which probably allowed him to appreciate certain arts more immediately that the passive spectator.” (page 77)

Poetry and music took up far more of his critical thinking and creativity than Christianity itself.  “If Friedrich left little record of poems composed in 1857, in 1858 he produced more than those of the previous two years combined.  The new poems register as well a new level of quality and with it the first traces of that sardonicism so often associated with the later Nietzsche…Friedrich himself delighted in storms and the depiction of those terrified adults scampering in terror from a phenomenon which he personally enjoyed sounds suspiciously like mockery.” (page 80)

Blue draws heavily upon six autobiographical manuscripts Nietzsche composed between the ages of 13 and 24.  The author believes that these narratives are highly revealing because Nietzsche took them so seriously when they were written.  “On the one hand, certain events in the past –the death of his father and the subsequent tragedies that befell his family (the death of [his younger brother] Joseph, the departure from Rocken [his birthplace]) – plainly affected him and explain, he says, his more sorrowful demeanor as compared to his cheerful schoolmates.  Yet he also says that he simply liked to be alone, a proclivity which would have estranged him to boys regardless of previous experiences.  In this case both factors – his response to the environment and intrinsic tendencies of his character – reinforce one another, accounting for his comparative isolation during his school years.” (page 88)

When Nietzsche entered the school at Schulpforte he discovered another passion that was perhaps even more important to him than poetry and music. “’A general drive to knowledge, to universal learning has seized me,’ he recorded, listing, thirty-six areas he found of interest.  Inevitably when compiling that list, its sheer multiplicity began to perplex him.  He was not sure how these subjects cohered, and he cast about for ways to organize them effectively.  In subsequent years this ‘drive to…universal learning’ began to seem somewhat sinister, as though in pursuing so many subjects he was dispersing the self and frittering away time and opportunity like an educational dilettante.

“By Easter in his second school year, he was made Primus, a title which indicates not just that he was academically at the top of his class but that he would be the one responsible for keeping order in his cohort when the teacher was away.  In succeeding years he was to become Primus several more times and to earn three ‘firsts,’ grades so unusually high that several years could pass before they were duplicated.  Teachers began to discuss him outside of class, and in his sixth year, an instructor could enthuse in private about one of his essays.  Apart from these academic accomplishments and on the side, Nietzsche pursued his artistic ambitions, turning out lyrics, plays, and fiction as well as numerous musical works.” (pp. 110-111)

Though he certainly enjoyed solitude, Nietzsche was highly sociable and, during his youth, was in no way the recluse that he would become in his later life. “…his letters and journal entries teem with the names of associates and casual friends, as might be expected in such tight and intimate circumstances.  He lived with classmates twenty-four hours a day and under every condition from intimacy of the dormitory to the intellectual spheres of the classroom and the shared activities of eating and athletics.  Inevitably, he would bond with some of them provisionally and within a specific context.  Nonetheless, if any of these relationships blossomed into sustained friendship, the memory has not been preserved.  So far as is now known, during the first year and a half of his stay at Schulpforte Nietzsche’s fellow students were at most companions.” (page 115)

Nevertheless, he enjoyed only a select few close friendships.  Paul Deussen was one of the first such friends.  “Deussen writes that his initial hopes of making friends with Nietzsche were disappointed, but eventually, the boys did grow closer, possibly because both felt alien at Schulpforte but also because both loved their studies.  According to Deussen, a shared appreciation for the lyrics of Anacreon, as well as for the comparatively easy Greek in which they were written, united the pair, and they began to recite the poems aloud on shared walks.  Eventually, they pledged friendship (and the right to address one another with the familiar ‘du’) in a pact, sealed with mutual taking of some snuff that Deussen had concealed in his trunk.  Deussen suggests that the two boys clung to one another with the relief of outsiders who had at last found someone to talk to.” (page 116)

With poetry, music, and a thirst for knowledge inspiring his life, Christianity ebbed into an inconsequential influence of his family.  “Nietzsche had never seemed interested in dogmatics and, unlike his father, never evidenced a significant fear of God or concern that his personal behavior might be sinful.  The one place Nietzsche addressed religion frequently and fervently was in music and poetry.  While most of his verse dealing with religious themes seems more dutiful than convincing, such writing does evince a religious spell to which the very spheres to which he was most vulnerable – in the imagination and the arts.  If he never speaks of dogma and rarely of personal adherence to religious principles, he seems to have found a place for Christian mythology exactly where it would most entrance him and in a way that Deussen describes in his memoir: as a spell, an imaginative transport, a rapture in which he gives himself up to a vision.” (page 120) 

Nietzsche excelled in Greek and ancient texts, he had a clear knack for it.  Philology initially fascinated him.  His thirst for knowledge led him to elevate the power of reason above human religion.  “…during the period from autumn 1858 to spring 1861 Nietzsche had moved from a mediocre student to becoming one of the more signal prodigies of Schulpforte.  His determination to excel scholastically was particularly evident that spring, for not only was he made Primus again but he composed as essay on Mithridates, the Bythnian king, that secured him a ‘first,’ grade given only every several years.  Probably without even recognizing it until faced with the consequences, he had shifted allegiances.  Scholarship could never replace religion in his eyes: it could provide neither the visionary inspiration nor the ethically resonant way of life offered by Christianity.  Nonetheless, Nietzsche had moved from a fundamental religious orientation, where reliance on tradition, authority, and imaginative investment were primary, to a worldview that affirmed reason, evidence, and a preference for explanation through natural causes.  The die was cast.  It was just a matter of developing what already had been done and recognizing the consequences.” (page 128)

Soon his studies and his creative expression transformed him from a passive religious person who wanted to please his family into someone who began to actively question his family’s religion.  “Between the summer of 1861, when he ceased to work on his oratorio, and the spring of 1863, when a mortifying event brought certain kinds of experimentation to an end, he repeatedly probed limits, exploring new cultural and ethical viewpoints in an attempt to put critical distance between himself and traditional beliefs.  Such behavior is not unusual for adolescents, and some of Nietzsche’s rebelliousness no doubt reflected activities typical for his age.  Nonetheless, as his demand for self-responsibility indicates, he had given this natural process a theoretical and emancipator meaning.” (page 142)

“Just as Nietzsche’s literary tastes were changing, so he began to explore new music, and – given music’s visceral appeal – it is likely that new tastes here would be at least as beneficial as those in the more evidently mediated language of poetry.  During the Pforta years he was exposed to music several times a week, not just as listener but as performer.  He sang in the school choir, both on Sundays and during ceremonies, and he sometimes toured the surrounding countryside with this group.  Meanwhile, he continued to improvise at the piano.  As might be expected at this school, his efforts at composition took a systemic turn; he studied a text on counterpoint by Johann Georg Albrechtsberger (Beethoven’s early teacher) and turned out so many fugues that Gustav [one of his closest friends] advised him to show restraint.” (page 147)

This testing of new perspectives and rebellious nature led to typical youthful transgressions.  “On Sunday, April 12, 1863, he joined a classmate at a railroad station tavern and drank four mugs of beer.  According to Deussen, he was not used to alcohol and for that reason easily showed the effects.  During his return to campus, a professor noted the symptoms and brought him and the other student to the attention of the authorities.  Again there was a secondary charge: Nietzsche was not only accused of drunkenness but of being too ‘devil-may-care.’  Accordingly, he was relieved of his status of Primus for the remainder of his time at Pforta.

“This time Nietzsche did not try to dismiss the incident.  ‘Dear Mother,’ his letter home began.  ‘If I write you today, it is about one of the most unpleasant and saddest incidents I have ever been responsible for.  In fact I have misbehaved very badly, and I do not know whether you can or will forgive me…Last Sunday I got drunk, and I have no excuse, except that I did not know how much I could take…Through this affair I have spoilt the fairly good position I succeeded in winning for myself the previous term…I do not need to give you any further assurances how seriously I will pull myself together, for now a lot depends on it.’” (pp. 159-160)

But such experimentation also led to a slight shift in his intimate perspective; a refinement that would last with him into his later years.  “It may be recalled that from his first autobiography onward he had assumed that one could know the self only externally, by observing its actions.  In none of these narratives had he tried to consult his thoughts or feelings, to understand the self through introspection.  During the Easter holidays of his final year at Pforta he at last made such an attempt, observing moods rather than activities.  The occasion was apparently unusual.  He had just bade farewell to an unnamed friend, until his feelings were turbulent as he tried to come to terms with the loss.  Yet he does not center his essay either on the friend or specifically identified feelings.  Rather he treats the occasion abstractly, observing the interplay of forces as thoughts and emotions combine to form moods and the moods in turn induce dynamics of their own.

“The resultant essay, ‘On Moods,’ begins with Nietzsche poised over a sheet of paper and bewildered by the many thoughts which demand to be recorded.” (page 171)

In most respects “On Moods” is a mature reflection of a Self upon itself.  It was a major advance for the young Nietzsche.  But his often brilliant school tenure at Pforta was over.  In a huge disappointment to his family, he willfully chose to pursue philology over theology and religion.  His school choice was the University of Bonn, certainly a highly respected college.  But he became something of a party boy there and his ultimate intellectual path would not be found in the year he spent at Bonn. 

Saturday, July 1, 2017

The Tightrope Walker Falls: 1889 – 1900

“For meanwhile the tightrope walker had begun his performance: he had stepped out of a small door and was walking across the rope, stretched between two towers, suspended over the street and the people. When he reached the middle of his course the small door opened once more and a fellow in motley clothes, looking like a jester, jumped out and followed the first one in quick steps. 

“...he uttered a devilish cry and jumped over the man who stood in his way. This man, however, seeing his rival win, lost his head and the rope, tossed away his pole, and plunged into the depth even faster, a whirlpool of arms and legs.” (Zarathustra, Prologue, 6) 

“The examination at Jena was essentially similar to Basel, although there are more technical details of the examination given which add little to the total picture. A 'scar' on the penis was noted which had been taken by some to indicate prior syphilis although this is a totally unjustifiable assumption. The papillary asymmetries are noted. Speech again is noted to be essentially normal, handwriting shows tremor 'when upset.' Reading abilities were normal. The major findings, as in Basel, were corrected with his mental state and behavior. He thanked the attendants for his 'splendid reception.' He did not seem to know where he was. At times he seemed to think he was in Naumberg, at times in Turin. He gesticulated a great deal and chattered continuously, often in French or Italian. (It was noted that in spite of his long residence in Italy, he did not know much Italian.) He continually tried to shake the hand of his doctor. Regarding the content of his 'flight of ideas,' he spoke of his musical compositions and sang excerpts from them, he claimed to have counseled 'legations' and to have given service to them. During his speech, he grimaced almost continuously. Even at night he engaged in almost continuous disconnected chatter. Today the patient would be said to be in a state of obvious manic psychosis. 

“The principle concern of the Jena physicians was to reduce the level of excitement. 'Calm, calm and always more calm' was Binswanger's invariable prescription to the mother when she was responsible for his care. To this end, Frau Nietzsche was not permitted to visit her son in the institution until July 29, over six months after his admission. She received regular reports, however, from Dr. Ziehen and an acquaintance, Frau Gelzer, who had information about Nietzsche's condition in the institution. For the first months of Nietzsche's commitment, he continued to exhibit agitated and incoherent behavior in frequent occasions. There was smearing of feces and drinking of urine, facts which were omitted in the first publications of the Jena record. Episodes were reported which suggest erotic or persecutor delusions; for example, on April 1 he told the warder '24 whores were with me at night'; April 17 – 'the most fearful machinery has been turned against me'; and April 19 – 'I want a revolver if the suspicion is true that the Grandduke himself has committed these Schweinerei and attacks against me.' On June 6, he broke a window in his agitation. Frau Nietzsche wrote to Overbeck's wife that she had learned that when Professor Binswanger and his wife sat their garden (he lived on the grounds), they could always hear Nietzsche's loud voice. But on other occasions, he could be quite reasonable, respond sensibly to questions, recognize his physicians and know where he was, and discuss his family. 

“By June, he seemed calmer and was able to take daily walks on the grounds. He occasionally read the newspapers, seemingly understanding what he read and remembering their contents at a later date. He often complained of headaches, reminiscent of his earlier problem with migraine. When there was still intermittent behavioral lapses (smearing feces, grimacing, urinating in his water glass), his overall condition had sufficiently improved so that his mother was permitted to visit on July 29, 1889. She had not seen him since the transport to Jena in mid-January of that year. By and large, the visit went well, Nietzsche seemed pleased to see her. There was no recurrence of the rage reaction directed against her during the trip to Jena.” (Schain, pp. 54-56) 

“Nietzsche's condition was stable during his last months at the Jena institution. He was allowed to take walks with his mother and other visitors were permitted. His old friends Peter Gast and Franz Overbeck visited him during this time and both of them spent hours walking with him. Their observations show considerable perceptiveness, revealing much more about his thought processes than the terse factual entries in the medical record. Gast visited Nietzsche on January 21, 1890. It was the first time they had seen each other in two years. Gast described the visit: 

“'He did not look very bad. I would almost like to say his mental disturbance consists only of an accentuation of the humorous side he formerly displayed when among friends in an intimate circle. He knew me at once, embraced and kissed me and was very delighted to see me, gave me his hand again and again as though he could not believe that I was really there. We spoke much of Venice and what was very surprising to me was that he has, of all things, remembered many of my more burlesque observations.' 

“Later, Gast listened to Nietzsche play the piano. He was amazed at his capacity to improvise, to produce a mood of 'Tristan-like finesse.' However, Gast's optimism did not last as he spent more time with the patient. He became depressed by his recognition that the old independent Nietzsche was no longer to be found. He began to feel his friend did not want to recover, that he 'would be about as grateful to his rescuers as somebody who has jumped into the water to drown himself and has been pulled out by some fool of a coastguard.' He wondered if Nietzsche was in a state which seemed to him 'horrible to say – as though he were only pretending to be insane, as though he were glad to have ended this way!' 

“Overbeck also spent long hours with Nietzsche during these last months at the Jena institution. He marveled how he could be completely lucid at one moment with even flashes of brilliancy recalling his highest moments but then suddenly sink into the most confused fantasies. He was particularly struck with how childishly compliant Nietzsche was most of the time. Like Gast, Overbeck wondered if Nietzsche was simulating madness. 'I cannot escape the horrible suspicion that arises within me at certain definite periods of observation, or at least at certain moments, namely, that his madness is simulated. The impression can only be explained by the general experiences which I have had of Nietzsche's self-concealment, of his spiritual masks. But here, too, I have bowed to facts which overrule all personal thoughts and speculations. Basically, Overbeck found no reason to alter the opinion he expressed on January 17, 1889, after he had said good-bye to Nietzsche at the train station on his way to Jena – 'It is all over with him.' 

“As Nietzsche steadily improved with respect to tractability, Frau Nietzsche rented an apartment in Jena in order to be with her son daily. He spent much of each day with her either on walks or in her apartment. His mother was pleased that he was improvising so much, but Peter Gast, who had remained in Jena, wrote: 'Nietzsche is but a mockery of his old self! My eyes fill with tears when I think of it.' The crusader for spiritual independence had become childishly docile. At no time did he ever refer in a meaningful manner to his former literary ambitions. The one feature of his old self which remained was his improvisations on the piano which were marked, according to Gast, by a remarkable profundity of expression. This did not carry over, however, to his personal interchanges.” (Schain, pp. 58-59) 

“From time to time there were still moments of 'Dionysian' euphoria. He was inclined to introduce himself as the Duke of Cumberland or the German Emperor, and as the husband of Cosima Wagner. When a certain 'Baron X' (a patient's report preserves, here, the anonymity of a fellow patient) started to play his zither, Nietzsche would leap to his feet and dance until a warder quietened him down 'He must have been a dashing dancer in his youth', the anonymous patient remarks.” (Young, page 552) 

Over time, however, Nietzsche proved himself stable enough to be released to his mother's care. He moved from Jena to Naumburg in May 1890. “The history of the next two years is one of decline into increasing apathy, with occasional bouts of liveliness. Hopes that Nietzsche might in the end be cured were reluctantly but at last completely abandoned, and Franziska's efforts were bent on keeping him as happy as possible and guarding against any untoward incidents which might lead to his being taken back to Jena – a fate she dreaded more than anything else.” (Hollingdale, page 246) 

In the fall of 1893 Nietzsche's sister, Elisabeth returned. She had visited briefly in 1890 in a desperate attempt to raise funds for her husband's anti-Semitic 'colony' in Paraguay. “Franziska Nietzsche was waiting at the Naumburg station to greet her daughter, along with Fritz, who was carrying a bouquet of roses. Although he immediately recognized his sister, calling her by his favorite nickname of 'Llama', his mother had to nudge her son to get him to hand her the bouquet. After which Fritz began to babble about his experiences in the Prussian army.” (Cate, page 558) 

“In September 1893, seeing that the game was finally up, Elisabeth liquidated what assets she had left and returned to Europe for good, determined to cash in on something far more glamorous and potentially lucrative, the Nietzsche business. Legally changing her name to Forster-Nietzsche (a contradictory combination of anti-Semitism and anti-anti-Semitism), she devoted her enormous reserves of energy, ruthless lack of scruples, and unlimited will to power to taking complete control of the Nietzsche business, to obtain sole control over both his works and what remained of his life.” (Young, page 554) 

Perhaps the greatest irony of Nietzsche's life is that the fame he pretended so desperately not to desire came to him after he went insane. Cate reports that “a second edition (with print orders of 1,000 copies) of Beyond Good and Evil, The Genealogy of Morals, and The Case of Wagner, to satisfy a demand which was steadily growing.” (page 558) 

By the time Elisabeth moved back for good, she could see the growing value in her brother's work. Lou Salomé also chose to cash in on her association with Fritz by publishing a successful biography of him in 1894. (I plan to review this biography in a future post.)  After that, Nietzsche's works were constantly being reprinted. Peter Gast, who for many years deciphered Nietzsche's handwriting to make final drafts legible for the publisher, almost completely devoted himself to publishing new editions. 

“On the 1st October 1893 [Franziska Nietzsche] wrote that he was still looking healthy and spent much of the time sitting on the veranda; he did not give the impression of suffering in any way and he 'even makes little jokes and laughs at them with us [i.e. herself and Elisabeth] in a perfectly natural way'. He was well for Christmas of that year but in March 1894 he was very sick, shouting and singing for hours on end, although again he seemed to be suffering no pain – 'he looks quite pleased with himself' (letter of 29th March). In the same letter she says that the daily walks have now had to be given up: as soon as they turn the street corner, Nietzsche asks 'Where is our house?' and is not happy until he is back there. 

“At Easter 1894 Rohde paid his first visit to the invalid, at Elisabeth's invitation: '...he is totally apathetic, recognizes no one but his mother and sister, speaks hardly a single sentence for a month at a time; his body has become shriveled up and weak, although his face has a healthy color...But he clearly feels nothing more, neither happiness nor unhappiness.'” (Hollingdale, page 246) 

“Gast, who saw him in October, wrote to Overbeck: 'Nietzsche lies upstairs all day dressed in a flannel gown. He does not look bad, has grown very quiet and gazes ahead with a dreamy and very questioning expression...He hardly recognized me any more.' 

“On his fiftieth birthday (the 15th October 1894) Paul Deussen visited him. 'His mother led him in, I wished him happy birthday, told him he was fifty years old, and gave him a bouquet of flowers. Of all this he understood nothing. Only the flowers seemed to engage his attention for a moment, then they too lay unnoticed.' 

“Overbeck saw Nietzsche for the last time towards the end of September 1895. He describes his appearance in a letter to Rohde of the 31st December: 'Five and a half years before I was able to walk with him for hours alone through the streets of Jena, when he was able to talk about himself and knew quite well who I was; now I saw him only in his room, half crouching, like a mortally-wounded wild animal that desires only to be left in peace, and he made literally not one sound while I was there. He did not look as if he was suffering or in pain, apart perhaps for the expression of profound distaste which was visible only in his lifeless eyes. Moreover, every time I went in he seemed almost always to be struggling against falling asleep. He had been living for weeks in a condition in which a day of dreadful excitability, which rose to the pitch of roaring and shouting, alternated with a day of total prostration. It was on a day of the latter kind that I saw him.'” (pp. 246 – 247) 

“By the end of 1893, five volumes of his collected works had been printed. Unable to tolerate work not carried out under her oversight, however, Elisabeth instructed Koselitz [Gast] that his services were no longer required. 'Who made you editor, then?' she demanded, and ordered all copies of his edition pulped.” (Young, page 555) 

Elisabeth maneuvered matters such that she obtained the rights to all of Nietzsche's works from her mother (who died in 1897) and to show her brother off to a select few, turning Nietzsche's home into a living shrine. Nothing could have more anti-Nietzschean than what Elisabeth did to her brother while alive and yet no longer able to function as a human being. Nietzsche became a freak show for Europe's elite culture, which served to truly launch his popularity. You would be hard-pressed to come up with a better definition of comic absurdity. 

“Far from wishing to conceal her witless brother, Elisabeth now turned the Ville Silberblick into a kind of shrine, where 'pilgrims' were received in a long drawing-room, heated in winter by a monumental green porcelain stove, while handsome copies of Nietzsche's books were exposed in various bookcases. The most admiring and socially significant of these visitors were taken upstairs to see the mute 'thinker,' who, to simplify the irksome problem of dressing and undressing him, now spent much of his time in a white linen gown, which made him look like a guru.” (Cate, page 565) 

Peter Gast returned to assist with translating Nietzsche's horrible original handwriting. “Finally, in 1898, a third effort at a collected works, known as the Grossoktav edition on account of the size of the paper used, began under six editors, including Koselitz, whom, realizing his unrivaled qualifications, Elisabeth had lured back to the Archives. Why Koselitz succumbed to the overtures of a woman he loathed is unclear. Possibly he hoped to prevent at least the worst perversions of the texts. If he did he was unsuccessful, since the edition, which appeared, volume by volume, between 1899 and 1913, was a philological disgrace.” (Young, page 556)

Elisabeth heavily edited and outright censored some of Nietzsche's writing to suit her efforts to “mythologize” her near vegetative brother. “It is quite possible that in pulling Koselitz back into into her editorial web, Elisabeth was counting on him not only to edit manuscripts but also to keep her brother musically entertained....But a moment later, when from the corridor came the sounds of rippling notes and rolling chords, as 'Pete Gast' danced with his fingers up and down the keyboard, Nietzsche's body suddenly responded with a feverish spasm of excitement and his 'transparent hands' came together to signal his applause. 

“...this was one of the last times Friedrich Nietzsche would thrill to the sound of piano music. A few weeks later he succumbed to an attack of influenza, which turned into a pneumonic inflammation of one lung. During the night of Friday to Saturday, 24-25 August, he suffered a heart attack. He died a few hours later...” (Cate, page 566) 

“At five o'clock on the afternoon of Monday, 27 August, a bizarre funeral service was held in the jam-packed Archives Room of the Villa Silberblick, amid lit candles, potted palms and heaps of flowers. The musical arrangements, hastily improvised by 'Peter Gast', included a Brahms cantata based upon a poem of Claus Groth's (one of young Fritz's favorites) and a five-voice 'Miserere' which Koselitz had personally composed in the style of Palestrina – both sung by women friends of Elisabeth. Ernest Horneffer (one of the archivists) had been asked to deliver the valedictory, but, feeling this was insufficiently grand for the occasion, Elisabeth had asked the celebrated art historian Kurt Breysig to pronounce funeral oration. Standing awkwardly by the window, he had trouble reading his lengthy text until, after a bit of hasty scrambling, he was able to place his pages on a sewing-box which, propped up against the window sill, served as a lectern. It was an interminable oration, which bored most of the listeners and exasperated one of them, the architect, Fritz Schumacher, who later wrote: 'The same sterile scholasticism against which Nietzsche had fought throughout his life followed him to the grave. If he had arisen, he would have thrown the lecturer out of the window and chased the rest of us out of his temple.' 

“Even more grotesque was the burial ceremony, which, at Elisabeth's insistence and in spite of the protests of the vicar (who boycotted the proceedings), was held the following afternoon in a graveyard of the Rocken parish church – so that Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche could be laid next to the coffins of his father, Pastor Ludwig, and his little brother, Joseph. A male choir, hastily recruited by Koselitz from the mass of Nietzsche and Oehler relatives who converged on the Thuringian village, provided the musical accompaniment. The solemnity of the occasion was enhanced b the ringing of the old bells which, fifty-six years and 318 days before, had joyously announced the entry into the world of Pastor Ludwig's and his wife Franziska's baby son, and which, four years later had tolled the death-knell for the piano playing pastor's premature demise.” (Cate, page 567)

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Becoming Dionysus: October 1888 - January 1889

“On his 44th birthday (the 15th October) he wrote the short passage ’An diesem vollkommnen Tage’ which he placed between the Forward and the first chapter of Ecce Homo and which is in its exalted cheerfulness the most pathetic in his works: 

‘”On this perfect day, when everything has become ripe and not only the grapes are growing brown, a ray of sunlight has fallen on to my life: I looked behind me, I looked before me, and never have I seen so many and such good things together.  Not in vain have I buried my forty-fourth year today, I was entitled to bury it – what there was of life in it is rescued, is immortal.’” (Hollingdale, page 194)

Without question, while there are flashes of brilliance, the major works of 1888 are collectively of a different taste than his writings up through the Genealogy. One great controversy about Nietzsche pertains to exactly when his mental capacities were affected by his approaching insanity.  Was it a completely sudden occurrence?  Was it there all along throughout 1888 and did all his later works bear witness to an increasingly unstable mind?

Certainly Ecce Homo contains sections which exhibit megalomania as we have touched on previously. One can safely say that the first clear manifestation of his mental instability was his elevated view of himself that emerged throughout 1888 but particularly in the last few weeks of the year.

“At the same time the tendency to megalomania, flashes of which, recall, go back to the Zarathustra period, becomes more and more pronounced.  The theme that his work will explode the history of the world into two halves since he is 'more dynamite than man' becomes more and more strident, as does the claim that he is the 'first man' of 'the century'...

“Of course, the more megalomania took over, the weaker became his grasp of reality.  The tentative contacts with Brandes had made on his behalf with, save for Strindberg, quite average people – people, moreover, who were generally interested in, but hardly converts to, his philosophy – were transformed into 'a discipleship' composed solely of 'the most elevated natures: of exclusively high-placed and influential people in St. Petersburg, in Paris, in Stockholm, in Vienna, in New York'. In his mind he had become 'incredibly famous', a superstar: 'there is no name that is treated with such reverence as mine'.” (Young, page 526)

“He achieved an extraordinary measure of physical self-mastery, in contemporary and later medical views.  A strong physis, carefully nurturing with food and exercise, resisted the onset of general paralysis and made his case of syphilis bewilderingly atypical. That he had an unusual body perhaps explains why he lost neither concentration nor artistic feeling almost until the end.  Into December he was revising Ecce Homo, the transcript traveling back and forth between him and Naumann the printer, and he was also assembling Nietzsche contra Wagner.

“The handwriting slipped before the mental grip. Already in June, because of his trembling, the manuscript of The Wagner Case was illegible, with the Latin characters indistinguishable from Greek.” (Chamberlain, page 204)

“Nietzsche seems to have been aware of the encroaching madness but, to avoid the pathos of an acknowledged struggle, would not state it directly. He wore the operetta mask, telling Koselitz: 'You'll also find in my cheerful and wicked 'present state' perhaps more inspiration for 'operetta' than anywhere else: I enjoy so many silly jokes with myself and leave so many clownish private insights that now and again I'm grinning for half an hour in the street, I know no other word for it...'

“Another attack of uncontrollable grimacing and weeping happened at a concert of 2 December.  As he insisted, the outburst could be interpreted as extreme joy in the program of Beethoven, Liszt and Goldmark...”(page 205)

“In his room at least he was safe.  He enjoyed the idea of it as a temple as he had before in Nice.  That he did for once envision it as a temple and not the usual 'cave' augured well for his spirits.  He felt exalted.  On one occasion, while he was working, the jolly melodies of The Barber of Seville wafted gloriously up from the weekly concert in the Galleria Subalpina.  He signed himself 'phoenix'.  He extemporized for hours at the piano.  Out buying fruit, he engaged in cheery conversation with the proverbially unforthcoming citizens of Turin.” (page 206) 

“The first time the Finos noticed that all was not well with their tenant...was the beginning of December, 1888. Nietzsche asked them to remove all the hangings from the walls of his room since he was expecting a visit from the king and queen of Italy, and the room needed to look like a temple to receive them.” (Young, page 528)

“The megalomania...took him increasingly into the realm of political fantasy....On December 31 he writes Strindberg that he has ordered a public holiday to celebrate the execution of the young Emperor, signing the letter 'Nietzsche Caesar'.  Strindberg, who himself only narrowly escaped confinement in a psychiatric institution, replied that 'It sometimes helps to be mad.'

“By January 3 victory has been achieved and world peace established: 'Do you not see how the heavens rejoice?' he writes Meta von Salis.  'I have entered into possession of my realm. I am throwing the Pope in jail and having Wilhelm [the Emperor], Bismarck and Stoecker [the anti-Semite] shot'.  The following day (his own kind of 'final solution') he is 'just now having all anti-Semites shot'.

“All this is, of course, madness.  Yet there is method in it, a vein of fragmented sanity that runs back to the best of his writings.  There remains, first of all, a vein of political sanity, generated by his experience of the Franco-Prussian battlefields.  His remarks in the closing pages of the notebooks on the 'madness' of the dynastic squabbles which 'place the flower of youth and energy and power in the cannon's mouth', and on the madness of spending twelve billion marks a year on preserving the 'armed peace' of the Triple Alliance, a peace which is no peace at all but merely a recipe for a future war, are models of sanity.” (page 529)

“On December 31 he wrote Koselitz that he could no longer remember his street address, but added, 'Let's assume it's the Palazzo del Qurinale' (the residence, in Rome, of the King of Italy).  Many letters were signed 'The Crucified', and even more 'Dionysus'.  (One link between Jesus and Dionysus is that both overcame death.  Both were killed – Dionysus was torn to pieces by the Titans – and were then resurrected to eternal life.)

“As 1888 turned into 1889, then, Nietzsche in a confused way, 'becomes' the god Dionysus.  And with this new identity comes the intensification of the mood of holy joy that he has inhabited since his arrival in Turin at the end of September.  'Sing me a new song: the world is transfigured and all the heavens rejoice', he commands Koselitz, reverting to the New Testament language of his upbringing.” (page 530)

“As he was leaving his lodgings on the morning of the 3rd January 1889 Nietzsche saw a cabman beating his horse at the cab rank in the Piazza Carlo Alberto. With a cry he flung himself across the square and threw his arms about the animal's neck.  Then he lost consciousness and slid to the ground, still clasping the tormented horse.  A crowd gathered, and his landlord, attracted to the scene, recognized his lodger and had him carried back to his room. For a long time he lay unconscious. When he awoke he was no longer himself: at first he sang and shouted and thumped on the piano, so that the landlord, who had already called a doctor, threatened to call a policeman too; then he quieted down, and began writing the famous series of epistles to the courts of Europe and to his friends announcing his arrival as Dionysus and the Crucified.” (Hollingdale, page 237)

Julian Young believes Nietzsche's famous horse hug is more myth than fact.  Regardless, the “doctor” to which Hollingdale previously refers was a psychiatrist. Nietzsche refused to see the shrink, but was fooled by the Finos into thinking the doctor was just a friend of the family. Nietzsche was given bromide to tranquilize him.

“Meanwhile, in Basel, Burckhardt, much perturbed by the 'I'd rather be a Basel professor than God' letter, visited Overbeck on January 6.  The latter, who had been worried about Nietzsche's mental condition for several weeks, consulted with his colleague Ludwig Wille, professor of psychiatry at the university and director of the local psychiatric clinic.  The latter advised him to bring Nietzsche back to Basel immediately, lest he find himself incarcerated in some dubious Italian institution.  

“On the afternoon of January 7, Overbeck arrived at Nietzsche's lodgings, to the great relief of Davide Fino, who, soft-hearted but desperate, had been on the point of calling the police.  Overbeck found his old friend, a shadow of his former self, sitting in the corner of a sofa,” (Young, page 532)

Richard Schain quotes a letter by Overbeck at length: “'I saw Nietzsche in a sofa corner, crouched down and reading – as it turned out, the last proof reading of N. contra Wagner – he looked horribly decrepit; recognizing me, he threw himself upon me and embraced me strongly, breaking into a torrent of tears, then sinking back into the sofa.  I too could hardly stand upright from the shock.  Had he at this moment recognized the abyss opening in front of him or in which he was actually plunged?  In any case, the moment did not return.  The whole Fino family was present. Scarcely had he started moaning an quivering again when he was given some bromine water that stood on the table. In a moment, he was calm again and smiling, he began to speak of a great reception that was preparing for the evening.  So he was in the grip of delusional ideas which never left while I was with him.  He broke forth in loud singing and frenzied piano playing, fragments out of the mental world in which he had been recently living and interspersed and indescribably uttered expressions, sublime, wonderfully insightful and unspeakably horrible things about himself as the successor to a dead God, all punctuated by chords from the piano after which convulsions and outbursts of unspeakable suffering followed – yet as I said, these occurred for only brief moments when I was there; in general, they were outweighed by the profession of his vocation to be the comic character of the new eternity, although he, the incomparable master of expression, was incapable of expressing the rapture of his happiness other than trivial expressions or comical dancing and jumping.  At the same time, the childish inoffensiveness never left him even during the three nights during which his outbursts kept the whole house awake.'

“It appears that Nietzsche danced naked, evoking the antique conception of holy sexual frenzies.  Overbeck might not have read The Gay Science, or if he had, he might have forgotten s. 381 where Nietzsche says, 'I don't know what the spirit of the philosopher would wish for more than to be a good dancer.  The dance is really his ideal, also his art, and in the end, his unique piety, his 'service to God.'” (Schain, pp. 44-45)

“On January 11, 1889, Franz Overbeck informed Nietzsche's only other remaining human contact, Heinrich Koselitz, that the previous day he had delivered Nietzsche, 'or more exactly the rubble of what only a friend would recognize as him, to the psychiatric clinic [in Basel].  He suffers from delusions of infinite grandeur, but also from much else - it's hopeless.  I have never seen such a horrific picture of destruction.' He delivered him to the care of Dr. Ludwig Wille...” (Young, page 550)

“In this crisis Overbeck was aided by the German consul, who recommended a German dentist named Bettmann, well known for his talent in calming hysterical patients. Bettmann, who turned out to be Jewish - as though Fate or Fortune had intervened to help the vehemently anti-antisemitic Nietzsche in this moment of distress – lived up to his reputation.  While Overbeck spent a hectic Wednesday morning cramming many of his friend's manuscripts, letters and notebooks into several trunks, Nietzsche obstinately refused to leave his bed.  But when Bettmann told him that he had to get up to take part in the festivities that were being prepared in Torino, Nietzsche, as docile as a child, obeyed him and got dressed.  There was a tearful farewell with Davide Fino, to whom Nietzsche he become most attached, but also a comic moment when the departing tenant insisted on 'borrowing' his landlord's paplina - the Italian word for 'nightcap' probably suggesting something ludicrously 'papal'.

“There was further trouble at the Turin railway station, where Nietzsche wanted to embrace every passer-by. Bettmann again rose to the occasion, pointing out that such behavior was unseemly on the part of a grand seigneur.  As the train pulled out of the station, the now totally uninhibited professor broke into a Venetian gondoliers' song.  During the all-night trip to Basel Overbeck and Bettmann kept feeding Nietzsche sedatives to calm him. Here again the astute dentist proved his extraordinary competence by explaining to need for this nerve-racking trip: a festive crowd had gathered in Basel to offer the 'returning hero' a triumphant welcome.” (Cate, page 553)    

“Nietzsche's little party was greeted by Dr. Wille at the entry area of Friematt, the mental institution directed by Dr. Wille.  Overbeck thought that Nietzsche had no idea where he was and was fearful what might happen when Nietzsche learned the truth of his circumstances.  However, Nietzsche in his most urbane manner approached Wille directly saying he knew he had seen him before  but could not recollect his name.  'I am Wille' was the response.  In the calmest of tones, Nietzsche responded, 'Wille?  You are an asylum doctor.  I had a conversation with you some years ago about religious delusions.  The occasion was an insane person, Adolf Vischer who lived here or in Basel at the time.'  Wille listened silently and nodded in agreement. Overbeck was amazed at Nietzsche's detailed recollection of events occurring seven years ago but also his complete denial that he himself was now a patient of the Irrenarzt. It was another example, as Overbeck himself put it, 'of the annihilating split in his personality.'” (Schain, page 49)

“Nietzsche's eight days in Friedmatt were characterized by alternating manic excitement and sleeping as a consequence of sulfonal administration. At times he would converse quite normally but then lapse into confused delusional thoughts or singing and joking.  According to a later communication by Wille to Elisabeth Forster-Nietzsche, there was considerable erotic ideation in his flight of ideas.  He continued to express a euphoric state of mind in which he felt strong, healthy, lucky, and capable of anything.  It was noted that he would be calm while he was confined to his bed, but upon rising, the wild excitement would return.  However, on balance, it was thought that the manic behavior was gradually decreasing during his stay at Friedmatt." (Schain, page 50)

“On the 14th Nietzsche's mother visited him.  He recognized her conducted a perfectly rational conversation about family matters until he suddenly cried: 'Behond in me the tyrant of Turin!. And the interview had to be cut short.” (Hollingdale, page 239)

“Nietzsche's mother wanted to take her son home to Naumburg.  She was convinced that under her ministrations, he could become well again.  However, Wille believed this to be inadvisable and would not agree to discharge Nietzsche to his mother's care. Finally, a compromise was worked out; Nietzsche would be transferred to the state psychiatric institution at Jena, which was only a short distance from Naumburg.” (Schain, pp. 50 – 51)

“On January 17, he left Basel in the company of his mother, an attendant from the Basel institution, and a young doctor named Ernst Mahly who had been a former student of Nietzsche's.  He is described as leaving the institution at night, 'closely flanked by both escorts, silent, his face like a mask, and in an unnaturally stiff posture, Nietzsche climbed into the train.'  He was quiet during the first part of the trip, eating rolls his mother provided and reading newspapers with interest.  However, shortly before arriving in Frankfurt where a change of trains was required, Nietzsche fell into a rage, apparently directed at his mother.  It was necessary for her to complete the trip in another compartment.” (page 51) 

Thursday, June 1, 2017

"Dionysus Comes To The River Po"

Note: The following excerpts are taken from Chapter 10 of Leslie Chamberlain's Nietzsche in Turin, which I have referenced before.  In this chapter, Chamberlain addresses the onset of Nietzsche's madness and specifically his Dionysus Dithyrambs - the final poems of his life. It affords us a glimpse into the intimate state of Nietzsche's mental decline with appropriate emphasis upon the neurotic obsession for all things associated with Richard Wagner that haunted Nietzsche's final semi-lucid days. It also serves to illuminate Nietzsche's (self-denied) mediocrity as a poet, his intensely felt isolation, his personal affinity (elevated valuation) for ancient Greek culture, and is additionally a reflection of Nietzsche's continuing undercurrent of eroticism.

"Nietzsche's art, which had become the art of life, fought a tremendous battle with sickness.  He was like the outcast Trojan priest Laocoon, resisting the punishing sea serpents to the last breath.  Thinking of the meaning of that classical statue, depicting terror and resignation, Nietzsche considered Laocoon's fate showed the Apollonian forces yielding to Dionysus. The statue could have worn his face. No wonder he called it pathetic.  His mental health late in 1888 was giving way; he was sinking into some putative collective unconscious.  His last resistance was to use his Apollonian gift to depict the chaotic material of an individual life ending.

"The terrifying mythical figure known as Dionysus Zagreus specifically betokened disintegration. Nietzsche gave Zagreus form, so that he could to the last see his fate beyond himself.  He went out to meet that fate as if he finally met his Platonic other half, ideally loved.  This was his last demonstration of amor fati, to shape his final destiny in the mould of the Orphic god who was destroyed and reborn.

"It was a last artistic interpretation of himself, and we understand from it the limits of his artistic impulse, that a sense of 'not-self' was hard won.  He wrote even as a young man that other people were as shadows in his Platonic cave.  He alone was real.  Artistic interpretation was the only way he could conceive of an 'other', a not-I.  Thus a Turin Zagreus was born." (page 182)

"Ecce Homo was a self-portrait in this tragic vein.  Yet it still had the limitations of a literary work.  Using mostly the colors of the contemporary world, Nietzsche framed his autopicture with such philosophy and politics as furnished his unique self-justifications a cultural revolutionary.  He began that process of turning himself into a modern myth, which proceeded apace after his death.  If the myth which then took shape was more violent, less subtle, and ignorant of his religious sensibility, the fault was partly Nietzsche's. Having associated 'the pictorial man' with fanaticism, he denied in Ecce Homo that he was a fanatic, though nothing was more true of his mode of operation in the last days. With pictures of himself as a warrior, an iconoclast and an inexhaustible ego he chased an image and won an idolatrous following. These were his projections in life and he needed to sustain his self-belief.

"But he needed pictures of a different order to depict his life's conclusion.  His greatest moment, sinking into eternal night, was going to be his Dionysian answer to Socrates' irony.  The truly Dionysian pictures abound in the poetry. There the symbolic images are still autobiographical, but removed from historical time. They portray Nietzsche's emotional relationships and his will to Greek religion.  They embody the history of a soul never fully unveiled to us. Nietzsche, like an imagined category of women he despised, was coy. The poems contain riddles to which willfully he never supplied the key.

"'Dionysus Zagreus come to the River Po', however, which Nietzsche set down on a few sheets of grey-edged Turin paper around Christmas, was a picture in prose, and all too clear.  It showed Dionysus wandering amongst a valedictory assembly of friends and family.  It could have been Nietzsche's parting arrow shot into posterity, a scene echoing Odysseus's descent to the Underworld, and one which might have been painted by Claude.  Only to this creation Elisabeth threw away the lock and the door as well as the key.  She took exception to Dionysus's view of the family and, pretending the deed was done by her mother, destroyed those sheets of handmade paper. It was another demonstration of family willfulness, manifesting itself differently in brother and sister." (page 185)

"Elisabeth wrote: 'At this period [surmised to be the last days on 1888] ...he covered some sheets of paper with the wildest fantasies, mingling the legend of Dionysus Zagreus with the story of the Passion and with the history of people whom he knew.  The god, torn to pieces by his enemies, rises again and walks along the banks of the Po, seeing all that he has ever loved, his ideals, the ideals of the present age, far beneath them.  His nearest and dearest have become enemies, who have torn him to pieces.  These sheets of paper, which were addressed to my husband in Paraguay, and to our mother, contain attacks on Wagner, Schopenhauer, Bismarck, the Emperor, Professor Overbeck, Peter Gast, Frau Cosima Wagner, my husband, my mother and myself.  He signed all his letters at the time 'Dionysus' or 'The Crucified One'." (page 186)

"In Ecce Homo Nietzsche has witnessed his death and invented his ancestors; in Turin recently he has seen his own funeral.  There is nothing to stop him being present at his own conception, growing up rapidly and now wandering the banks of the Po.  This jungle of imagery from picture book to picture book is I think just a prelude to understanding Nietzsche's rabid Dionysian imagination in the last six years of his life.

"The fertility of that jungle affected Nietzsche's general view of his style.  He believed he was the master in verbal expression of a myriad of inner states and moods and tensions, for which he had found signs and gestures.  He referred to his exemplary style in 'The Seven Seals', 'Every style is good which actually communicates an inner state, which makes no mistake as to the signs, the tempo of the signs, the gestures - all rules of phrasing are an art of gesture.  My instinct here is infallible.'  We do not have to accept the claim to find its valuable testimony.  The wording is musical and closely resembles what Nietzsche had praised in Wagner. 'Dionysus comes to the river Po' may have some musical quality in the words and the general conception. The garden element and the theme of a non-Christian redemption suggest a faint parallel and challenge to Parsifal , Wagner's last work.  I am aware of the absurdity of comparing three fragmentary lost pages with a grand music drama setting Christianity against Paganism.  But the obscure, forceful, often ugly dithyrambs written at the same time as Zagreus were certainly strikingly Wagnerian, which implies no qualitative comparison with Wagner.  They were mythical and would-be musical, poised between rebellion and inner retreat, and shot through with the sweetness of sleep - and eternal sleep." (page 190)

"The dithyramb also bore, in its modern meaning of a poetic tone more than a form, however, a much closer personal significance for Nietzsche.  It betokened wild howling, vehement expression.  Nothing could have been more apt for a poet in love with the masks of self-intoxication and madness.  What a way to rebel against being made chaste and virtuous by misfortune! The medium itself expressed a desire to be sensually out of control.  Had Nietzsche used the form to greater artistic effect his poems might have become iconic for the modern condition, like Munch's The Scream, because they are a kind of howling after lost community.  All Nietzsche's writing where the pictorial and the musical dominate over the discursive could be called Dionysian and dithyrambic.  They sing, they laugh, they flash color, they luxuriate in texture. That style has been hailed as exemplary of the modern, because it is essentially a lament for fragmentation.

"Of the nine Dionysus Dithyrambs of December 1888, 'The Fire Signal' is a recent creation, drawing on Nietzsche's love of water imagery to make his soul a bonfire on a small island amid an ocean, signaling to every kind of solitude, past and future, for the last and deepest confirmation of his own being alone.  It recalls Brunnhilde before she is awakened to save the world.  Another new poem, 'The Sun Sets', tends towards the ecstasy of inertia, of a hopeless, wish-free motionlessness which is a calm sea, skimmed by the lightest of boats floating into the distance. Nietzsche drafts a letter to an unknown correspondent on 27 November, introducing these minor works.  In general their themes were drawn from the landscape of elemental forces with which Nietzsche was obsessed: earth and sun, desert, fire, mountains.  They were peopled by Dionysus and Ariadne, with a few extra walk-on parts."  (pp. 191-192)

"The dithyrambs are certainly cold in an intense, declamatory fashion.  The rich alliteration once again recalls Wagner's imitations of medieval German Stabreime. The lines seem oddly dead on the page, as if they did come from a faraway, unreachable culture carried into the modern world in fragments.  In particular Nietzsche's imagining of love, which mostly amounts to lust, is often strained and peculiar, because of the introduction of the gastric process.  In a deliberate transvaluation of idealistic love he places biting, chewing, digesting, self-nourishing, self-perpetuation - and excreting understood - at the center of his real love, which is yet a quite unreal one.  In his (pro)creative satisfaction he is fruit cooked in its own juice. Or he wants to be a sweet, gleaming date full of golden promise, chewed in a young girl's mouth and bitten into by her by sharp, ice-cold, snow-white teeth.  To be swallowed like Jonah would also be sweet, conducive to arrival in the ultimate oasis-belly.  There is a memory of a rare real sexual encounter. 'Among Daughters of the Desert' is peopled by dancers, creatures flitting about in gauze, who closely resemble the women he encountered as a bewildered young man in that Cologne brothel.  The picture is of lust buried under so many layers of fantasy that a cursory reading might leave only a sense of frustrated impotence." (page 192)

"The dithyrambs...return Nietzsche to Wagner, revealing themselves as another taking up of the invitation to the young professor to take from Wagner whatever might be useful.  Nietzsche having asked his mother to search out that Wagner earlier in the year, now answered it in 'On the Poverty of the Richest'. That dithyramb repeated word for word also brought Nietzsche contra Wagner to a close, while the title page of that essay set the scene for the last act of his tragedy: 'Turin Christmas 1888'.

"The music to which the tragedy plays out is, by Nietzsche's choice, Wagner's Tristan.  At Christmas 1888 he cannot think beyond Tristan as a fascinating, capital work, peerless among all the arts.  The Dionysus Dithyrambs are replete with Tristan's characteristic imagery of fire, light and dark, ships, breath (air), mouth and lips and its Buddhistic spirit. In the language of the Liebestod, an ecstatic sinking of two lovers into willed darkness, Nietzsche describes his own solitary departure alone. As a composer he has wrought a thematic transformation of the boldest Lisztian kind, taking the original notes and making them express a quite different sentiment.

"That Nietzsche's endless rivalry with Wagner preoccupied him as his end neared is clearly shown  in a letter to Avenarius on 10 December.  As usual, in his mind he made Wagner think about Nietzsche what in fact Nietzsche felt towards Wagner. For with Nietzsche's music and Nietzsche's poetry there was a tragic flaw: it wasn't good enough.  He was a great writer and an extraordinary human and intellectual phenomenon.  But he wasn't a great artist. Indeed the truth was, the great musical god Dionysus was Wagner.  Nietzsche only sang in his chorus, imitated his poetry, but couldn't bear to admit it." (pp. 193 - 194)

"Nietzsche as artist and man provided a kind of music then, to which Wagner supplied most of the human content.  It was Wagner who showed what love was, and in the end Wagner who showed him how, in imagination, to die. Wagner did that not only with his works but his life.  Going mad, Nietzsche, imagined Cosima was his wife.  That claim was the end of the Cosima drama which had been going on in his head for a long time, besides the drama with Richard.  An early French critic of Nietzsche's saw it as the great unwritten romantic novel of the nineteenth century. There is a dithyramb called 'Ariadne's Lament', which in Zarathustra was spoken by a man.  The theme was rebelliousness against an absent God which was at the same time dependence.  In Zarathustra, the trembling old man who declaimed it implausibly, next moment metamorphosed in Zarathustra's mind into 'actor, counterfeiter, liar...magician', i.e. into Wagner himself. The poem made more sense as Aridane's lament, when according to myth, her lover Theseus abandoned her.  In the 1888 version Ariadne was Cosima, Theseus Wagner, and Dionysus, who appeared for the first time to save the betrayed woman, was Nietzsche.  The constant in these two versions was Nietzsche's lament for lost love, his anger and his dependence.  He shuffled the parts, but only ever succeeded in expressing in a dramatic monologue his longing for the lost companionship of the Wagners." (page 195)

Perhaps he had that in mind while he was reading the final proofs of Nietzsche contra Wagner, his mental grip already loose and erratic.  The dithyrambs were written at a time when Nietzsche was exhibiting pronounced signs of megalomania and gradual signs of insanity.  Indeed, at least one was written when Nietzsche thought himself to be the Greek god Dionysus.  As such, these poems represent the fading vocabulary of a would-be poet dancing on the edge of the abyss.