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.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Ecce Homo: Part Two

The subtitle to Nietzsche's autobiographical work is “How One Becomes What One Is.”  It tells, in often satirical fashion, the story of Nietzsche's philosophical journey; the twists and turns, the mistakes and breakthroughs, that led him to write his 'great task' though, of course, he only completed the first part of the revaluation project.  The rest of it never came to fruition, buried as scattered and unripe thoughts and fragments captured in his private notebooks.

These selections from the work should suffice to give readers unfamiliar with Ecce Homo a taste of its potent prose.


“The last thing I would promise would be to 'improve' mankind.  I erect no new idols; let the old idols learn what it means to have legs of clay.  To overthrow idols (my word for ideals) – that is rather my business. Reality has been deprived of its value, its meaning, its veracity to the same degree as an ideal world has been fabricated...The 'real world' and the 'apparent world' – in plain terms: the fabricated world and reality...The lie of the ideal has hitherto been the curse on reality, through it mankind itself has become mendacious and false down to its deepest instincts – to the point of worshiping the inverse values to those which alone could guarantee it prosperity, future, the exalted right to a future.” (Forward, 2)


“A being who is typically morbid cannot become healthy, still less can he make himself healthy; conversely, for one who is typically healthy being sick can even be an energetic stimulant to life, to more life.  Thus in fact does that long period of sickness seem to me now: I discovered life as it were anew, myself included, I tasted all good and even petty things in a way that others could not easily taste them – I made out of my will to health, to life, my philosophy...For pay heed to this: it was in the years of my lowest vitality that I ceased to be a pessimist: the instinct for self-recovery forbade to me a philosophy of indigence and discouragement...And in what does one really recognize that someone has turned out well!  In that a human being who has turned out well does our senses good: that he is carved out of wood at once hard, delicate and sweet-smelling.  He has a taste for what is beneficial to him; his pleasure, his joy ceases where the measure of what is beneficial is overstepped.  He divines cures for injuries, he employs ill chances to his own advantage; what does not kill him makes him stronger.  Out of everything he sees, hears, experiences he instinctively collects together his sum: he is a principle of selection, he rejects much.  He is always in his company, whether he traffics with books, people or landscapes: he does honor when he /chooses/, when he admits, when he trusts.  He reacts slowly to every kind of stimulus, with that slowness which a protracted caution and a willed pride have bred in him – he tests an approaching stimulus, he is far from going out to meet it.  He believes in neither 'misfortune' not in 'guilt': he knows how to forget - he is strong enough for everything to have to turn out for the best for him.  Very well, I am the opposite of a decadent: for I have just described myself.” (Why I Am So Wise, 2)


“War is another thing.  I am by nature warlike. To attack is among my instincts.  To be able to be an enemy, to be an enemy – that perhaps presupposes a strong nature, it is in any event a condition of every strong nature.  It needs resistences, consequently it seeks resistances: the aggressive pathos belongs as necessarily to strength as the feeling of vengefulness and vindictiveness does to weakness....every growth reveals itself in the seeking out of a powerful opponent – or problem: for a philosopher who is warlike also challenges problems to a duel.  The undertaking is to master, not any resistances that happen to present themselves, but those against which one has to bring all one's strength, suppleness and mastery of weapons – to master equal opponents...Equality in the face of the enemy – first presupposition of an honest duel.” (What I Am So Wise, 7)


“One becomes what one is presupposes that one does not have the remotest idea what one is.  From this point of view even the blunders of life – the temporary side paths and wrong turnings, the delays, the 'modesties', the seriousness squandered on tasks which lie outside the task – have their own meaning and value....For the task of a revaluation of all values more capacities perhaps were required than have dwelt together in one individual, above all antithetical capacities which however are not allowed to disturb or destroy one another.  Order of rank among capacities; distance; the art of dividing without making inimical; mixing up nothing, 'reconciling' nothing; a tremendous multiplicity which is none the less the opposite of chaos – this has been the precondition, the protracted secret labor and artistic working of my instinct.  The magnitude of its higher protection was shown in the fact I have at no time had the remotest idea what was growing within me – that all my abilities one day leapt forth suddenly ripe, in their final perfection.” (Why I Am So Clever, 9)


As Cate pointed in the previous post, Nietzsche goes into great detail about his personal habits in Ecce Homo.  His beliefs and experiences regarding diet, location, hobbies, all sorts of intimate details are shared with the reader.


“...these little things – nutriment, place, climate, recreation, the whole casuistry of selfishness – are beyond all conception of greater importance than anything that has been considered of importance hitherto.  It is precisely here that one has to begin to learn anew.  Those things which mankind has hitherto pondered seriously are not even realities, merely imaginings, more strictly speaking lies from the bad instincts of sick, in the profoundest sense injurious natures – all the concepts 'God', 'soul', 'virtue', 'sin', 'the Beyond', 'truth', 'eternal life'...But the greatness of human nature, its 'divinity', has been sought in them...All questions of politics, the ordering of society, education have been falsified down to their foundations because the most injurious men have been taken for great men – because contempt has been taught for the 'little' things, which is to say for the fundamental affairs of life....My formula for greatness in a human being is amor fati: that one wants nothing to be other than it is, not in the future, not in the past, not in all eternity.  Not merely to endure that which happens of necessity, still less to dissemble it – all idealism is untruthfulness in the face of necessity – but to love it...” (Why I Am So Clever, 10)


“My time has not yet come, some are born posthumously. - One day or other institutions will be needed in which people live and teach as I understand living and teaching: perhaps even chairs for the interpretation of Zarathustra will be established.  But it would be a complete contradiction of myself if I expected ears and hands for my truths already today: that I am not heard today, that no one today knows how to take from me, is not only comprehensible; it seems to me right.” (Why I Write Such Good Books, 1)


“I shall at the same time also say a general word on my art of style.  To communicate a state, an inner tension of pathos through signs, including the tempo of these signs – that is the meaning of every style; and considering that the multiplicity of inner states is in my case extraordinary, there exists in my case the possibility of many styles – altogether the most manifold art of style any man has ever had at his disposal.  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 art of gesture.  My instinct here is infallible.” (Why I Write Such Good Books, 4)


At this point Nietzsche proceeds to make a critique and assessment of his work up through The Wagner Case.  It is interesting to note how much analysis (in some cases how apologetic) he devotes to each volume in his body of work. The Birth of Tragedy receives a little over five pages.  The Untimely Essays a bit less than five pages.  Human, All Too Human about six pages.  Daybreak gets two and a half pages. Surprising to me is the fact that he devotes only one page to The Gay Science, one of his best overall works.  The famous Thus Spoke Zarathustra receives nine pages, the most of any work.  My favorite Nietzsche work, Beyond Good and Evil gets only a page and a half. Genealogy of Morals, considered by many to be his best philosophical effort – one page. Twilight of the Idols is worthy of two pages. The Wagner Case merits six and a half pages, which perhaps reflects Nietzsche's struggle to balance his personal anguish regarding Wagner in comparison with the wider achievements of his other works and particularly with respect to the revaluation project.


Nietzsche summarizes The Untimely Meditations as “altogether warlike”.  Daybreak is cast as the beginning of his “campaign against morality”, specifically “the struggle against the morality of unselfing” by which Nietzsche means the “decadence” that manifests itself as “resistance to the natural instincts” of ourselves as persons. His extremely brief review of The Gay Science declares that “in practically every sentence of this book profundity and exuberance go hand in hand”.  He sees the “positive” aspects of these books undergoing a transformation into the next phase of his life's work found in Beyond Good and Evil. He writes: “The task for the immediately following years was as clear as it could be.  Now that the affirmative part of my task was done, it was the turn of the denying, the No-saying and No-doing part: the revaluation of existing values themselves, the great war – the evocation of the day of decision.”


There is nothing particularly insightful or new, even in summation, offered for the freshly completed Twilight of the Idols or The Wagner Case, nor in his brief thoughts on the Genealogy. Rather it is with the sections devoted to The Birth of Tragedy and Thus Spoke Zarathustra that Nietzsche brings more substantive thinking to bear, perhaps achieving his best writing for the section of his autobiography dealing with his body of work.


For The Birth of Tragedy, his most popular work during his lifetime due to its Wagnerian connections, he writes: “The book's two decisive novelties are, firstly the understanding of the dionysian phenomenon in case of the Greeks – it offers the first psychology of this phenomenon, it sees in it the sole root of the whole Hellenic art.  The other novelty is the understanding of Socratism: Socrates for the first time recognized as an agent of Hellenic disintegration, as a typical decadent.  'Rationality' against instinct. 'Rationality' at any price as dangerous, as force undermining life!” (BOT, 1)


Nietzsche attempts to disconnect Wagner and Schopenhauer from this work, but his attempts are unconvincing. Nevertheless, he contextualizes his first book as the beginning of a meaningful process of self-discovery. He quotes from Twilight of the Idols (his intention is to connect his first book with his latest efforts): “'...beyond pity and terror, to realize in oneself the eternal joy of becoming – the joy which also encompasses joy in destruction...'  In this sense I have the right to understand myself as the first tragic philosopher - that is to say the extremist antithesis and antipodes of a pessimistic philosopher.  Before me this transposition of the dionysian into a philosophical pathos did not exist: tragic wisdom was lacking – I have sought in vain for signs of it even among the great Greeks of philosophy, those of the two centuries before Socrates.  I retained a doubt in the case of Heraclitus, in whose vicinity in general I feel warmer and more well than anywhere else.  Affirmation of transitoriness and destruction/, the decisive element in a dionysian philosophy, affirmation of antithesis and war, becoming with a radical rejection even of the concept 'being' - in this I must in any event recognize what is most closely related to me of anything that has been thought hitherto.” (BOT, 3)


Nietzsche contextualizes Zarathustra as a work primarily dealing with “the idea of eternal recurrence, the highest formula of affirmation that can possibly be attained.”  He continues, rather boastfully: “This work stands altogether alone.  Let us leave the poets aside: perhaps nothing at all has ever been done out of a like superfluity of strength. My concept 'dionysian' has here become the supreme deed; compared with it all the rest of human activity seems poor and conditional.  That a Goethe, a Shakespeare would not for a moment have known how to breathe in this tremendous passion and solitude, that Dante is, compared with Zarathustra, merely a believer and not one who first creates truth, a world-ruling spirit, a destiny – that the poets of the Veda are priests and not even worthy to unloose the latchet of the shoes of Zarathustra – all this is the least of it, and gives no idea of the distance, of the azure solitude, in which the work lives.” (Z, 6)


“I walk among mean as among fragments of the future: of that future which I scan.  And it is with my art and aim to compose into one and bring together what is fragment and riddle and dreadful chance.  And how could I endure to be a man, if man were not also poet and reader of riddles and the redeemer of chance!  To redeem the past and to transform every 'It was' into and “I wanted it thus!' - that alone I would call redemption.


“I emphasize one final point: the italicized line provides the occasion.  Among the decisive preconditions for a dionysian task is the hardness of the hammer, joy even in destruction,  The impressive 'become hard', the deepest certainty that all creators are hard, is the actual mark of a dionysian nature.” (Z, 7)


One aspect of Ecce Homo is that Nietzsche takes every opportunity to stitch his collective body of work together as always having dealt with themes that were actually only fully fleshed out in his later efforts. It is true the undercurrents of what Nietzsche later called “decadence” and the “dionysian” perspective occasionally graced his early and middle works, but not to the degree of emphasis we find in his 1888 writings.  So, perhaps somewhat disingenuously or at least self-deceptively, Nietzsche connects The Birth of Tragedy with Twilight of the Idols


For all its satire and poetry and insightful musings, Ecce Homo shows patterns in the evolution of Nietzsche's thought that are more convenient in the name of metaphysical consistency than they are accurately portraying his earlier works and the development of his philosophy. Nietzsche writes of “wrong-turnings” (existential and philosophical investigations that don't pan out and cause one to back track to their “main” path) on the path of self-discovery throughout Ecce Homo but in reality he fails to apply any personal wrong-turning specifically to his works.

Ultimately, all of this autobiographical and intellectual self-analysis manifests itself in the beautiful egoism that makes up the last section of the work.  Here Nietzsche discusses his legacy as if he knew Ecce Homo was the end of his sane life.  


“I know my fate.  One day there will be associated with my name the recollection of something frightful – of a crisis like no other before on earth, of the profoundest collision of conscience, of a decision evoked against everything that until then had been believed in, demanded, sanctified.  I am not a man, I am dynamite....I do not want 'believers', I think I am too malicious to believe in myself, I never speak to the masses...I have a terrible fear I shall one day be pronounced holy: one will guess why I bring out this book beforehand; it is intended to prevent people from making mischief with me...I do not want to be a saint, rather even a buffoon...Perhaps I am a buffoon....the truth speaks out of me. - But my truth is dreadful: for hitherto the lie has been called truth. - Revaluation of all values: this is my formula for an act of supreme coming-to-oneself on the part of mankind which in me has become flesh and genius. It is my fate to have to be the first decent human being, to know myself in opposition to the mendaciousness of millennia...I was the first to discover the truth, in that I was the first to sense - smell - the lie as lie...My genius is in my nostrils...I contradict as has never been contradicted and am none the less the opposite of a negative spirit....For when truth steps into battle with the lie of millennia we shall have convulsions, an earthquake spasm, a transposition of valley and mountain such as has never been dreamed of.  The concept politics has then become completely absorbed into a war of spirits, all the power-structures of the old society have been blown into the air – they one and all reposed in the lie: there will be wars such as there have never been on earth.  Only after me will there be grand politics on earth.” (Why I Am A Destiny, 1)


“...the over-valuation of goodness and benevolence by and large already counts with me as a consequence of decadence, as a symptom of weakness, as incompatible with an ascending and affirmative life: denial and destruction is a condition of affirmation.” (Why I Am A Destiny, 4)


“In the concept of the 'selfless', of the 'self-denying' the actual badge of decadence, being lured by the harmful, no longer being able to discover where one's advantage lies, self-destruction, made the sign of value in general, made 'duty', 'holiness', the 'divine' in man!” (Why I Am A Destiny, 8)


As explained in our review of the Genealogy selfishness is more authentic to the free spirit than selflessness.  Being-for-others is decadence - only actions that are meaningful of our own choosing (our intimate Being-in-myself) are authentic.  So selfishness in this sense, at least, is superior from Nietzsche's perspective.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Ecce Homo: Part One

Ecce Homo is Nietzsche's most enigmatic and problematic work, and the student who reads it  must do so with caution.  Much of it self-evidently belongs to the time Nietzsche no longer had control over his fantasies;  on the other hand, much is not only rational but quite consonant with the outlook already familiar from the other post-Zarathustra works.

“The extreme claims concerning his own importance in the history of European civilization – 'One day my name will be associated with the recollection of something frightful – with a crisis such as there has never been on the earth before' (EH IV 1)  and so on – may be discounted as examples of the overcompensation...in his letters and personal writings of 1888 and earlier; where he is writing not about himself but about other people, or reiterating his philosophy, Ecce Homo shows no trace of unbalance. There is no intellectual degradation: the mind is as sharp as ever and there is, above all, no decline in the stylistic control of language; on the contrary, the book is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful in German.  Many passages are a non plus ultra of richness combined with economy...To find a just comparison one must go outside literature altogether: Ecce Homo is the Jupiter Symphony of German letters.” (Hollingdale, page 216)

Ecce Homo shows how a modern man can defend himself against those disintegrating forces which threaten his personality and his life.  Nietzsche, modern to the core, counsels psychological insight, for moral and social prescription only mislead spiritually becalmed men and women further.  He urges self-determination while simultaneously underscoring the chaos of existence: the individual must create himself though he is existentially worthless.”  (Chamberlain, page 159)

“Here for the first time were publicly exposed many of Nietzsche's physiological characteristics, hitherto known only to close friends and acquaintances: his unusually low pulse rate, his poor eyesight, which improved every time his 'vitality' increased, his never having suffered a fever – he quotes a doctor who, after examining him, remarked, 'No, it's not a question of your nerves, it's only I who am nervous' – and has discovery that sickness can be an 'energetic stimulus' to life.

“What distinguishes Ecce Homo above all else is its fresh, uninhibited tones, and the careless ease with which, in describing his personal experiences and his highly idiosyncratic likes and dislikes, Nietzsche managed to give them a universal, but also, alas, easily misunderstood significance.” (Cate, page 535)

“One of the charms of Ecce Homo - for despite its strident imperfections (glaringly apparent towards the end) this is a charming book – is its rambling character. It is a peripatetic monologue in which the author takes the reader on a guided tour through his past, paying little heed to strict chronology but much to matters of geography, climate, food and drink.” (Cate, page 538)

“If all of Ecce Homo had been on this superior level, this little book of pungent reminiscences would have been a masterpiece.  But of a sick genius this is probably asking too much.  And the sad truth of the matter is that, as the book progressed, Nietzsche's worst habit – for a habit it had become – became stridently apparent.  This was his self-infatuated, subterraneanly nourished by frustration at having so long been ignored by German readers who refused to recognize his philosophical significance.  His observations about the successive books he wrote, the reasons why he wrote them, the responses they elicited (all too briefly suggest) are full of fascinating insights and valuable information; but every now and then he yielded to his inner demon and indulged in exaggerations unworthy of a thinker who detested histrionic exhibitionism and histrionic ostentation.” (Cate, page 541)

"Ecce Homo has aged in the shadows, and its sorry life consists of neglect, misunderstanding, and disparagement. As far as I can tell, the last person to comprehend and gain merriment form its farraginous form was its author, Friedrich Nietzsche. Instead of laughing at this cheerfully cynical book, a legion of grave scholars has found it oddly distressing at best and pathetic madness at worst....I contend Ecce Homo is a satire. As a trained classicist, Nietzsche was familiar with this ancient genre, and he wrote a parody of autobiography to skewer not only not only the inherent pretensions of self-reflection and unvarnished truth, but the larger historical pretensions of philosophy to procure timeless wisdom....What is the value of a life lived painfully? Could prolonged suffering be overcome and transformed, or would his authorial output always stand in spite of it? Ecce Homo became Nietzsche's last effort to transform enduring pain into something valuable, and to unify and communicate the essence of his philosophical corpus as he saw it.” (More, pp. 2-3)

Ecce Homo is Nietzsche's most unique major work.  It was written at a time when, if Nietzsche was not already going insane, his sanity was wavering.  As we shall see in a future post, he was exhibiting symptoms of megalomania when this work was written.  So a great deal of controversy surrounds the work.  Does it exhibit raving madness?  Is it cleverly insightful?  Is it brilliant poetic prose...or a megalomaniac's attempt at comedy?  There is less consensus about Ecce Homo than with any of Nietzsche's other published works. Despite some merits, Julian Young sees it as a “flawed work.”

“A weapon in his 'war against the present' which Nietzsche regarded as even more potent than The Antichrist was, in the order of composition, his last work, Ecce Homo.  Begun on his birthday, October 15th, he regarded it as, in principle, finished by November 4, though he continued to make alterations up until January 6, 1889. 

“In the Preface, Nietzsche writes that 'Since I plan shortly to have to confront humanity with the heaviest demand that has ever been made on it, it seems indispensable to say who I am'.  The reference, here, is to the immanent appearance of the master work and its urgent demand that we 'revalue all values'. Since he anticipated the masterwork being even more 'black and squid-like' than Beyond Good and Evil, he felt it imperative first to abolish the notion that its author was a sadistic misanthrope, a 'pathological' case.  The idea that he is a 'bogey man' or 'moral monster', he says in the Preface, someone who 'strives to abolish all decent feelings', is completely mistaken. By presenting a human, even intimate, portrait of himself as someone with a normal human background, who has had to struggle every step of the way with ill health, and who has himself been infected with the decadence he criticizes, he wants to show, I think, that the fundamental impulse of his work is 'not hardness but the opposite, a true humanity which strives to prevent needless disaster'.” (Young, pp. 518 – 519)

“Given that Nietzsche's collapse came right on the heels of Ecce Homo, the question inevitably arises as to whether, or to what extent, the work is infected by the approaching madness.  What sharpens the question is the fact that the work contains what look to be manifest delusions: that he was descended from Polish aristocracy, that even in childhood he never took the Christian God seriously, that the influence of Schopenhauer on The Birth of Tragedy was minimal, that he never had any enemies, that his greatness is obvious to everyone he meets, and many more.” (page 519)

“The claim to descent through his father from Polish nobility, to be sure, allows him to find nothing redeeming about the Germans, allows almost every page to drip – in the end it has to be said, tediously – with bile against these 'vulgar' 'cattle' who have perpetuated all the cultural crimes of the last four hundred years.  But given that he is supposed to be a picture of psychic health, he ought to be free of ressentiment and should not, therefore, have had any bile to spit in the first place.  Ressentiment is, it should be noted, exactly the right word here.  For, far too obviously, the bitterness that is read, as he thinks, 'by nothing but choice intelligences...in Vienna, St. Petersburg, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Paris, and New York, everywhere except in Europe's flatland, Germany, betrays the fact that the readers who really matter to him are none other than his fellow Germans – who, however, either ignore him or dismiss him as a madman.

“What, moreover, has to be recognized is that a great deal of the hyperbole has a megalomaniac character which is directly continuous with themes in the letters he wrote as he was unmistakably losing his mind. The claim, for instance, that 'wherever I go, here in Turin, for example, every face grows more cheerful and benevolent at the sight of me...the old market woman take great pains to select together for me their sweetest grapes' appears several times in the so-called 'crazy letters', as does the claim to be God: the idea he is related to his mother and sister is Ecce Homo claims, in a passage Elizabeth managed for many years to suppress, a 'blasphemy against my divinity'.

Ecce Homo is, then, a flawed work. Other signs of Nietzsche's failing powers are repetition, wandering organization, self-questioning at disproportionate and self-indulgent length, and, when he comes to review his earlier works, a lack of sense of their relative importance: whereas the Genealogy receives less than a page, The Wagner Case receives six. For all this, however, Nietzsche still being, for the most part, Nietzsche, it remains a book full of interesting and sublime moments.” (page 519 – 520)

“Without rejecting the importance of role models, Ecce Homo expands on the techniques of self-discovery in an interesting way:

“'That one becomes what one is presupposes that one does not have the remotest idea what one is.  From this point of view even life's mistakes have their own meaning and value, the occasional side roads and wrong turns, the delays, the...seriousness wasted on tasks that lie beyond the task.'

“To, as it were, discover who one is by discovering who one is not, one must keep the 'surface of consciousness...free of all the great imperatives' and 'big words', otherwise one will 'understand oneself too early'; one's self-definition will run down worn, all-too-worn, paths.  To become a 'higher' type, something new and unique, one must preserve a kind of passivity while, 'in the mean time, the organizing, governing idea' that is the 'meaning' of one's life 'keeps growing deep inside'.  Soon it 'starts commanding and slowly leads back from out of the side roads and wrong turns'. In a word, 'self-seeking' is, through a process of trial and probably lots of error, a matter of finding rather than creating oneself, rather as the sculptor 'finds' rather than creates the figure 'slumbering' in the marble.

“The idea of allowing one's 'self' and 'destiny' to emerge through one's mistakes provides the narrative structure of the work, a narrative that centers, inevitably, on Wagner. The 'most affectionate and profound' relation of his life, Nietzsche says, was with Richard Wagner.  'None of my other personal relationships amounts to much, but I would not give up my Tribschen days for anything'.  But then came the Bayreuth festival:

“'Where was I?  I did not recognize anything.  I hardly recognized Wagner.  I sifted through memories in vain. Tribschen – a distant Isle of the Blessed: not a shadow of similarity.  The incomparable days when we laid the cornerstone [of the opera house – notice Nietzsche still endorses the original enterprise a small society of people who belong there...What had happened?

“What had happened was that Wagner had been 'translated into German', had allowed himself to be captured by the Wagnerians and in the process become Reichsdeutsch, and anti-Semite German chauvinist.” (page 521)

“Wagnerian decadence, the impulse to world-denial, is, Nietzsche emphasizes, 'in' rather then 'outside' his nature. Becoming ,what one is' is more a matter of ordering the inner world than of resisting alien influences.

“Under the guiding spirit of Voltaire, Neitzsche continues, he made, in Human, All-Too-Human, the turn from Wagnerian romanticism to Enlightenment thinking....Shortly after, through the fortunate intervention of sickness and fading eyesight, he had to give up the bookwormish life of philology – another wrong turning – and began writing his own philosophy. 

“And that, essentially, is that: the end of Ecce Homo's, in fact, rather meager narrative.  Since the rest of Nietzsche's life was writing books, all that remains is to review the books.  With the turn away from Wagner, the turn away from decadent, life-denying romanticism and towards health and life-affirmation, Nietzsche had essentially become 'what he was'.  But exactly what was that?  Who did he become?” (page 522)

“To adapt and grow, we know, a people must 'give birth to a star', to a 'free spirit': in my language, a 'random mutation'. Ecce Homo identifies 'superman' as just another name for this bearer of the future: the superman 'is a superman specifically when compared to the good - he stands 'super', above, their morality. Nietzsche adds, recalling the Genealogy's point that most free spirits will be 'martyred' by the forces of social conservatism, that 'the good and just would call [Zarathustra's]...superman a devil.'

“What will a 'superman' propose in the way of cultural reform?  In a nutshell, 'the imminent return of the Greek spirit'.  Community will be once more created, gathered together, an preserved by the authentic collection of art work, 'the supreme art in the affirmation of life, tragedy, will be reborn'.  And this takes us back, yet again, to Wagner, to a Wagner purified of cheap showmanship, anti-Semitism, German chauvinism, romanticism, Christianity and life-denial: 'the idea of Bayreuth [will have] transformed itself into...that great noon...who knows? The vision of the festival that I will live to see someday'.

“If, however, we are to abandon the Christian worldview what are we to do about that most problematic of all life's features, its finitude, to which, it has to be admitted, Christianity provided a solution?  The answer, again, is 'Dionysus': entering into the 'psychology of the tragic poet' in which 'over and above all fear and pity one is oneself the eternal joy of becoming', 'the will to life rejoicing in its own inexhaustibility through the sacrifice of its highest types'. To become fully healthy, to enter the Dionysian state, is to be able to rejoice, inter alia, over the eventual 'sacrifice' of one's own, everyday self. Through transcending the illusion of individuality, through realizing one's identity with the totality of existence, one not merely overcomes death but achieves a positive 'affirmation of [in particular, one's own] passing away'.” (pp. 522-523)

Walter Kaufmann called Ecce Homo “one of the treasures of world literature.”  But, he also qualified his praise.  “Of Nietzsche's last works, none has proven harder to understand than Ecce Homo.  The self-portrait is not naturalistic; hence, it is widely felt, it is clearly insane and to be disregarded.  This prevalent view is doubly false.  The lack of naturalism is not proof of insanity but a triumph of style – of a piece with the best paintings of that time.  And even if what might be interpreted as signs of madness do occasionally flicker in a passage, that does not mean that the portrait can therefore be ignored.  In both respects Nietzsche should be compared with Van Gogh.

Ecce Homo does not fit any ordinary conception of philosophers.  It is not only remote from the world of professional or donnish philosophy, from tomes and articles, footnotes and jargon – in brief, from the modern image.  It is equally far from the popular notion of the wise man: serene, past passion, temperate, and Apollinian.  But this is plainly part of Nietzsche's point: to offer a new image – a philosopher who is not an Alexandrian academician, nor an Apollinian sage, but Dionysian.” (from Kaufmann's introduction)

With Ecce Homo Nietzsche achieves his final victory of stylistic prose.  His ramblings and advocacy are more effective than reasoned substance.  In some respects, it is as if he were writing for himself alone.  The author and the audience have melded into a passionate farewell to his “great task”, farewell to critique and psychological insights, farewell to higher culture, farewell to making himself clear. Instead, we say hello to the philosophy made manifest, the Logos made spirit, the ridiculous made sublime.  The Birth of Tragedy reasserted the importance of Dionysus.  In this final work, Nietzsche becomes Dionysus and serves as an example for the rest of us to love all fate, become a free spirit, and relax into the weight of eternal return. 

Saturday, April 15, 2017

The Antichrist: Part Two

Nietzsche attacks Christianity and the Christian Church with a vengeance in The Antichrist.  But there is more to his critique than just largely pent-up ravings that are often articulated in previous works. Given the fact that this is the only portion of the grand four-volume revaluation project Nietzsche completed, any hints of what he intended as characteristics of a “free spirit” who actually transforms his or her value system should be highlighted as particularly important.  What select traits does Nietzsche assign to the revaluation? The Antichrist offers glimpses of what are perhaps more established characteristics of his transformed values for cultural health and individual demeanor and style.

Some of the brilliance in the use of language previously commended by R. J. Hollingdale (if sometimes excessive as critiqued by Julian Young) can be found in the following excerpts; much of the phrasing is a perfected blend of philosophy, psychology, and poetry.  For Nietzsche, The Antichirst was an elite form of thinking and relating to life. This, I think, is a key to understanding his revaluation project.  "Honesty to the point of harshness" and being "above" politics and nationalism are among the many revalued traits of the "superman" human.


“This book belongs to the very few.  Perhaps none of them is even living yet.  Possibly they are the readers who understand my Zarathustra: how could I confound myself with those for whom there are ears listening today? - Only the day after tomorrow belongs to me. Some are born posthumously.


“The conditions under which one understands me and then necessarily understands – I know them all to well. One must be honest in intellectual matters to the point of harshness to so much as endure my seriousness, my passion.  One must be accustomed to living on mountains – to seeing the wretched ephemeral chatter of politics and national egoism beneath one.  One must have become indifferent, one must never ask whether one is useful or a fatality....Strength which prefers questions for which no one today is sufficiently daring; courage for the forbidden; predestination for the labyrinth.  An experience out of seven solitudes.  New ears for new music.  New eyes for the most distant things.  A new conscience for truths which have hitherto remained dumb.  And the will to economy in the grand style: to keeping one's energy. One's enthusiasm in bounds....Reverence for oneself; love for oneself; unconditional freedom with respect to oneself...” (A, Forward)


“Let us look one another in the face.  We are Hyperboreans – we know how much out of the way we live....Beyond the North, beyond the ice, beyond death - our life, our happiness....We have discovered happiness, we know the road, we have found the exit out of whole millennia of labyrinth'  Who else has found it? - Modern man perhaps? - 'I know not which way to turn' . – sighs modern man; I am everything that knows not which way to turn' – sighs modern man....It is from this modernity that we were ill – from lazy peace, from cowardly compromise, from the whole virtuous uncleanliness of modern Yes and No. This tolerance and largeur of heart which 'forgives' everything because it 'Understands' everything is sirocco to us.  Better to live among ice than among modern virtues and other south winds! … We were brave enough, we spread neither ourselves nor others: but for long we did not know where to apply our courage.  We became gloomy, we were called fatalists,  Our fatality – was the plenitude, the tension, the blocking-up of our forces.  We thirsted for lightning and action, of all things we kept ourselves furthest from the happiness of the weaklings, from 'resignation'....There was a thunderstorm in out air =, the nature which we are grew dark - for we had no road.  Formula for our happiness: a Yes, a No, a straight line, a goal...” (A, 1)


The revaluation is in some sense societal, ethical, certainly cultural in its intent. But the goal is also intimate and personal, generally a practice of self-revaluation that is a redefinition of attitude, belief, and style.  We can see glimpses of the revalued self in Nietzsche's negative approach to what he intends, defining it by what it is not.


“What is good? - All that heightens the feeling of power, the will to power, power itself in man.   


“What is bad? - All that proceeds from weakness.


“What is happiness? - The feeling that power increases - that resistance is overcome.


Not contentment, but more power; not peace at all, but war; not virtue, but proficiency (virtue in the Renaissance style, virtu, virtue free of moralic acid).


“The weak and the ill-constituted shall perish: first principle of our philanthropy.  An one shall help them to do so.


“What is more harmful than any vice? - Active sympathy for the ill-constituted and weak – Christianity...” (A, 2)


“The problem I raise here is...what type of human being one ought to breed, ought to will, as more valuable. More worthy of life, more certain of the future.  This more valuable type has existed often enough already: but as a lucky accident, as an exception, never as willed.” (A, 3)


Seeking to express and expand one's power, being existentially warrior-like, skillful and dexterous of spirit rather than striving for so-called virtues, these are all qualities of the revalued self that was at the heart of Nietzsche's unfinished great task. Meanwhile, traditional value systems like those developed through Christianity, contrary to popular opinion, have failed to strength western civilization.  Instead Christianity and all religious thinking has led to a frailty of culture.


“Mankind does not represent a development of the better or the stronger or the higher in the way that is believed today.  'Progress' is merely a modern idea, that is to say a false idea.  The European of today is of far less value than the European of the Renaissance; onward development is not by any means, by any necessity the same thing as elevation, advance strengthening.


“In another sense there are cases of individual success constantly appearing in the most various parts of the earth and from the most various cultures in which a higher type does manifest itself:  something which in relation to collective mankind is a sort of superman.” (A, 4)


“One should not embellish or dress up Christianity: it has waged a war to the death against this higher type of man, it has excommunicated all the fundamental instincts of this type, it has distilled evil, the Evil One, out of these instincts – the strong human being as the type of reprehensibility, as the 'outcast'.  Christianity has taken the side of everything weak, base, ill-constituted, it has made an ideal out of opposition to the preservative instincts of strong life...” (A, 5)


“...my assertion is that all values in which mankind at present summarizes its highest desideratum are decadent values.  


“I call an animal, a species, and individual depraved when it loses its instincts, when it chooses, when it prefers what is harmful to it.  A history of the 'higher feelings', of the 'ideals of mankind' – and it is possible I shall have to narrate it – would almost also constitute an explanation of why man is so depraved.  I consider life itself instinct for growth, for continuance, for accumulation of forces, for power: where the will to power is lacking there is decline.  My assertion is that this will is lacking in all supreme values of mankind, the values of decline, nihilistic values hold sway under the holiest of names. (A, 6)


“Christianity is called the religion of pity. - Pity stands in antithesis to the tonic emotions which enhance the feeling of life: it has a depressive effect.  One loses force when one pities.  The loss of force which life has already sustained through suffering is increased and multiplied even further by pity.  Suffering itself becomes contagious through pity; sometimes it can bring about a collective loss of life and life-energy which stands in an absurd relation to the quantum of its cause ( - the case of the death of the Nazarene). (A, 7)


Nietzsche praises a "quiet, cautious, mistrustful manner" as a fundamental aspect of the revaluation. And it is clear that he associates "power" as the antithesis of "decadence".  The will to power is certainly a fundamental characteristic of the revaluation.


“Let us not undervalue this: we ourselves, we free spirits, are already a 'revaluation of all values', an incarnate declaration of war and victory over all ancient conceptions of 'true' and 'untrue'.  The most valuable insights are methods.  We had the whole pathos of mankind against us – its conception of what truth ought to be;  every 'thou shalt' has hitherto been directed against us....Our objectives, our practices, our quiet, cautious, mistrustful manner – all this appeared utterly unworthy and contemptible to mankind. - In the end one might reasonably ask oneself whether it is not really an aesthetic taste which blinded mankind for so long: it desired a picturesque effect from truth, it desired especially that the man of knowledge should produce a powerful impression on the senses.  It was our modesty which offended their taste the longest....Oh, how well they divined that fact, those turkey-cocks of God - “ (A, 13)


“Wherever the will to power declines in any form there is every time also a physiological regression, a decadence. The divinity of decadence, pruned of all its manliest drives and virtues, from now on necessarily becomes the God of the physiologically retarded, the weak.  They do not call themselves weak, they call themselves 'good'....When the prerequisites of ascending life, when everything strong, brave, masterful, proud is eliminated from the concept of God; when he declines step by step to the symbol of a staff for the weary, a sheet-anchor for all who are drowning; when he becomes the poor people's God, the sinner's God, the God of the sick par excellence, and the predicate 'savior', 'redeemer' as it were remains over as the predicate of divinity as such: of what does this transformation speak?  Such a reduction of the divine?” (A, 17)


Nietzsche dabbled in comparative religion throughout his body of work.  He compared Christianity with Judaism and with Greek philosophy on multiple occasions.  In The Antichrist he compares Christianity and Buddhism.  His understanding of the oriental religion is rudimentary at best, but nevertheless quite enlightened for a European of his time.  Interesting, he finds Buddhism superior to Christianity but nevertheless both perspectives are “decadent.” Nevertheless, even this exercise reveals aspects of Nietzsche's revalued self.


“With my condemnation of Christianity, I should not like to have wronged a kindred religion which even preponderates in the number of its believers: Buddhism.  They belong together as nihilistic religions – they are decadent religions – but they are distinguished from one another in the most remarkable way.  The critic of Christianity is profoundly grateful to Indian scholars that one is now able to compare these two religions. - Buddhism is a hundred times more realistic than Christianity – it has the heritage of cool and objective posing of problems in its composition, it arrives after a philosophical lasting hundreds of years;  the concept of 'God' is already abolished by the time it arrives. Buddhism is the only really positivistic religion history has to show to us, even in its epistemology (a strict phenomenalism -), it no longer speaks of 'the struggle against sin' but, quite in accordance with actuality, 'the struggle against suffering'.  It already has – and this distinguishes profoundly from Christianity – the self-deception of moral concepts behind it – it stands, in my language – beyond good and evil. - The two physiological facts upon which it rests and on which it fixes its eyes are: firstly an excessive excitability of sensibility which expresses itself as a refined capacity for pain, then an overly-intellectuality, a too great preoccupation with concepts and logical procedures under which the personal instinct has sustained harm to the advantage of the 'impersonal' ( – both of them conditions which at any rate some of my readers, the objective ones, will know from experience, as I do). On the basis of these physiological conditions a state of depression has arisen: against this depression Buddha takes hygienic measures.  He opposes it with life in the open air, the wandering life; with moderation and fastidiousness as regards food; with caution towards all emotions which produce gall, which heat the blood; no anxiety, either for oneself or for others.  He demands ideas which produce repose or cheerfulness – he devises means for disaccustoming oneself to others.  He understand benevolence, being kind, as health promoting.


“...his teaching resists nothing more than it resists the feeling of revengefulness, of antipathy, of ressentiment ( - 'enmity is not ended by enmity': moving refrain of the whole of Buddhism...).  And quite rightly; it is precisely these emotions which would be thoroughly unhealthy with regard to the main dietetic objective.  The spiritual weariness he discovered and which expressed itself as an excessive 'objectivity' (that is to say weakening of individual interest, loss of center of gravity, of 'egoism'), he combated by directing even the spiritual interests back to the individual person.  In the teaching of the Buddha egoism becomes a duty: the 'one thing needful', the 'how can you get rid of suffering' regulates and circumscribes the entire spiritual diet...” (A, 20)


“The precondition for Buddhism is a very mild climate, very gentle and liberal customs, no militarism; and that it is the higher and even learned classes in which the movement has its home.  The supreme goal is cheerfulness, stillness, absence of desire, and this goal is achieved.  Buddhism is not a religion in which one merely aspires after perfection: perfection is the normal case.  In Christianity the instincts of the subjugated and oppressed come into the foreground: it is the lowest classes which seek their salvation in it.” (A, 21)


“Buddhism is a religion for late human beings, for races grown kindly, gentle, over-intellectual who feel pain too easily ( - Europe is not nearly ripe for it - ): it leads them back to peace and cheerfulness, to an ordered diet in intellectual things, to a certain physical hardening.  
Christianity desires to dominate beasts of prey; its means for doing so is to make them sick - weakening in the Christian recipe for taming, for 'civilization'.  Buddhism is a religion for the end and fatigue of a civilization, Christianity does not even find civilization in existence – it establishes civilization if need be.” (A, 22)


The idea of "late" humans marks the high-tide of existential decadence. Neither Buddhism nor Christianity offer a sufficient basis for the revaluation of all values. As for specific characteristics of a “revalued” life, Nietzsche reveals much with his discussion of a "noble" and “ascending” style of living. 


“In my Genealogy of Morals I introduced for the first time the psychology of the antithetical concepts of a noble morality and a ressentiment morality, the later deriving from a denial of the former: but this latter deriving from a denial of the former: but this latter corresponds totally to Judeo-Christian morality.  To be able to reject all that represents the ascending movement of life, well-constitutedness, power, beauty, self-affirmation on earth, the instinct of ressentiment here become genius had to invent another world from which that life-affirmation would appear evil, reprehensible as such.” (A, 24)


One of the ironies about The Antichrist is that, for all his rage at Christianity, Nietzsche actually has a great deal of respect for Jesus.


“One could, with some freedom of expression, call Jesus a 'free spirit' – he cares nothing for what is fixed: the word killeth, everything fixed killeth.  The concept, the experience 'life' in the only form he knows it is opposed to any kind of word, formula, law, faith, dogma.  He speaks only of the inmost thing: 'life' or 'truth' or 'light' is his expression for the inmost thing – everything else, the whole of reality, the whole of nature, language itself, possesses for him merely the value of a sign, a metaphor. - On this point one must make absolutely no mistake, however much Christian, that is to say ecclesiastical prejudice, may tempt one to do so: such a symbolist par excellence stands outside of all religion, all conceptions of divine worship, all history, all natural science, all experience of the world, all acquaintances, all politics, all psychology, all books, all art – his 'knowledge' is precisely the pure folly of the fact that anything of this kind exists.” (A, 32)


“If I understand anything of this great symbolist it is that he took for realities for 'truths', only inner realities – that he understood the rest, everything pertaining to nature, time, space, history, only as signs, as occasion for metaphor.  The concept 'the Son of Man' is not a concrete person belonging to history, anything at all individual or unique, but an 'eternal' fact, a psychological symbol freed from the time concept.” (A, 34)


More clues and specifics about the qualities of revaluation: "instinct and passion" make "war" upon the "holy lie"; a "benevolent and curious neutrality"; "discipline of the spirit"; "shameless self-seeking."  


“Only we, we emancipated spirits, possess the prerequisite for understanding something nineteen centuries have misunderstood – that integrity become instinct and passion which makes war on the 'holy lie' even more than on any other lie....One has been unspeakably far from our benevolent and curious neutrality, from that discipline of the spirit through which alone the divining of such strange, such delicate things is made possible: at all times one has, with shameless self-seeking, desired only one's own advantage in these things, one constructed the Church out of the antithesis to the Gospel.” (A, 36)


“If one shifts the center of gravity of life out of life into the 'Beyond' – into nothingness - one had depraved life as such of its center of gravity.  The great lie of personal immortality destroys all rationality, all naturalness of instinct – all that is salutary, all that is life-furthering, all that holds a guarantee for the future in the instincts henceforth excites mistrust. So to live that there is no longer any meaning in living; that now becomes the 'meaning' of life...” (A, 43)


Nietzsche ends with a reiteration of the power of the priests argument he first fully articulated the Genealogy.  It begins with: “Have I been understood?” This question reflects Nietzsche actual state of being at this time of his life.  He was self-searching, self-critiquing.  This would manifest itself magnificently in Ecce Homo but first he has to assign ultimate blame for the decadence of Christianity. 


“The beginning of the Bible contains the entire psychology of the priest. - The priest knows only one great danger: that is science – the sound conception of cause and effect....The concept of guilt and punishment, including the doctrine of 'grace', of 'redemption', of 'forgiveness' - lies through and through and without any psychological reality – were invented to destroy the causal sense of man: they are an outrage on the concept cause and effect! ...When the natural consequences of an act are no longer 'natural' but thought of as effected by the conceptual ghosts of superstition. By 'God', by 'spirits', by 'souls', as merely 'mortal' consequences, as reward, punishment, sign, chastisement, then the precondition for knowledge has been destroyed - then one has committed the greatest crime against humanity. - Sin, to say it again, that form par excellence of the self-violation of man, was invented to make science, culture, every kind of elevation and nobility impossible: the priest rules through the invention of sin.” (A, 49)


For Nietzsche these priests not only satisfy his requirement on the importance of the will to power but it also declares that the abolition (or at least change in perspective) of the concept and experience of "sin" is a characteristic of the revalued self. Nietzsche's revalued ideal banishes sin and guilt. Believe in yourself, be free of all guilt and sin, find yourself free, be yourself.  That is possibly where we were headed with the revaluation.  We will never know.  The rest of the "great task" was undeveloped, scattered in notebooks he never intended anyone to read.