Thursday, December 31, 2009
“Yet something had changed once and for all. Philology now seemed to be a layer of moss smothering plants he genuinely wanted to thrive – his burgeoning thoughts – even if the cost of removing the moss and cultivating those thoughts, as his doctors warned him, would be chronic migraine and eventual blindness.” (The Good European, pp. 101-102)
“On the 1st September he set up house again in Basel with Elizabeth, Gast making a third as “secretary and friend’, and tried to resume his academic career; but by the end of the year he was forced to relinquish his duties as teacher at the High School and concentrate entirely on his lectures.” (Hollingdale, page 110) Even these lectures were curtailed thanks to the efforts of Burckhardt and Overbeck, both alarmed at the state of his health, managing the politics of Nietzsche’s workload with the University’s administration.
In October, Fritz saw two specialists in Frankfurt regarding his headaches and eyes. “Particularly dire was the stern prescription, underlined to stress it capital importance: an absolute avoidance of reading and writing for years to come. Blue-lensed spectacles were recommended…and, in general, the patient should avoid ‘every form of extreme physical and intellectual exertion’.” (Cate, page 246) It was nothing less than the death sentence to his being. Nietzsche wanted desperately to write, no matter how much he attempted to throw himself back into professional scholarship. He was forced to rely on his sister for readings and Peter Gast for dictating almost every word he wanted written.
Despite all this, “By December 3, 1877, the title and contents of Human, All Too Human were ready for the printer. It was the book in which his metaphysical questions would be subordinated to psychological ones; or, better, the book in which Nietzsche’s penchant for investigating the family tree of metaphysics and morals would finally blossom.” (The Good European, page 102)
“The Christmas season, with all it conjured up in memories of happier, bygone times along with the approaching death of another year, had long been a painful time for Nietzsche. That of 1877 was no exception. He was nagged by the guilty realization that he had funked the marriage issue – as ‘Aunt Malwida’ had gently scolded him in a letter written in August.” (Cate, page 248)
“Although Nietzsche was convinced that deep thinking is necessarily slow, solitary thinking, it is no exaggeration to say that Human, All Too Human was a book ‘written against the clock’ by a man in his early thirties who was never able to forget that his father had died of ‘softening of the brain’ at the age of thirty-six. It was also the product of a man whose imaginative faculties, abetted by an extraordinary retentive memory, never stopped churning out new ideas. In Sorrento it had become a source of amusement for Malwida von Meysenbug, Paul Ree, and Albert Brenner: in the garden near their villa there was a certain tree under whose lofty foliage Fritz liked to tarry; it soon came to be known as the Gedankenbaum (thought-tree) because every time he stood under it for a minute or two Nietzsche was visited by a new, illuminating inspiration.” (Cate, page 253)
Human, All Too Human (HH) was something most of Nietzsche’s few admirers did not expect. It was written in 638 aphorisms which did not necessarily flow linearly. The work ended with "an epilogue" poem entitled Among Friends. The construction of his arguments was highly fragmented and tinged throughout with poetic phrasing. Many thought he had been overly influenced by Paul Ree due to the work’s rational starkness. Some of his closest friends thought the work failed to contain any “free thinking” at all (the subtitle for HH was A Book for Free Spirits). For others, the work was too radical in its apparent conclusions (its criticism of Christianity and its sexism toward women, for example). Still others found the aphoristic style confusing, the lines of reasoning shallow and disjointed.
Nevertheless, this work served as the foundation for a new system of thought very different from Fritz’s days of “channeling” Schopenhauer or his Wagnerian advocacy. It pushed the limits of acceptability by calling the dialectic basis of western culture into question. “The world, clearly, was neither ‘good’ nor ‘bad’, and it was high time to stop using such shallow, shopworn terms which, even when applied to human affairs, were often quite unjustified.
“No illusion could be greater, Nietzsche went on (section 29), than to believe that the more Man elevates himself above the rest of the animal world, to the point of considering himself a genius of the species, the closer he comes to grasping the real ‘essence’ of things. Essentially deceptive the phenomenal world may be – this had been one of Heraclitus’ profoundest observations – but it is one that is full of meaning, of which art and religious are precious blooms, a world that is ‘deep, wonderful, carrying happiness and unhappiness in its bosom.’” (Cate, page 256)
Immediately following the initial publication, Fritz’s health seemed to improve. “In the middle of June 1878 Elizabeth returned to Naumberg, and Nietzsche rented a house on the edge of town so he would be compelled to walk to work and so, he thought, get some strengthening exercise. During the winter semester 1878-79 he seemed to have recovered somewhat, but at Easter he felt the need of a ‘cure’ at Geneva.”(Hollingdale, page 110)
Nietzsche continued a rather mundane professorship at Basel, punctuated by attacks of illness, as the initial bewilderment toward HH was established. Very few of his friends accepted it with enthusiasm. Nietzsche felt the work was incomplete and expanded it in 1880 with 408 aphorisms entitled Assorted Opinions and Maxims and 350 more aphorisms collected as The Wanderer and His Shadow, printed as volume two but constituting, in fact, a published whole completing HTH (the last aphorism in first volume is subtitled The Wanderer).
He often worked only for fifteen minutes at a time to avoid straining his pitiful eyesight. Peter Gast, who wrote down much of the first volume from Fritz’s dictation, was not able to assist Fritz with the supplemental material for HH, though he did manage to edit the final manuscript. Nietzsche was very anxious awaiting Gast’s proof of the text, the anxiety affecting his delicate and worsening health. “From early February of 1879 on, his violent headaches were accompanied by a cramp which forced him to keep his right eye closed for hours at a time. The steady deterioration of his health made it more and more difficult for him to complete his weekly quota of five lectures and one seminar hour.” (Cate, page 274)
“Now he began to pay the price for nearly a decade’s neglect of his health. (I)nstead of resting he worked; instead of behaving cautiously in every period of improvement he acted each time as if he were finally cured; instead of allowing the recuperative powers of his body time to act to swallowed medicines. He enjoyed walking and swimming and therefore allowed himself to believe that walking and swimming were good for him. In short, he did everything calculated to aggravate the disease, and in April 1879 it got the better of him: for several weeks he was in a constant state of collapse, racked by attack after attack of the most agonizing headaches, his eyes almost useless from pain and his stomach in continual revolt. In a panic, Overbeck wired to Elizabeth that her brother was in urgent need of assistance, and when she arrived she found him half-dead with pain and exhaustion. On the 2nd May he asked to be relieved of his duties at the university for good: he was finished teaching. On the 14th June he was retired on a pension and left Basel with Elizabeth.” (Hollingdale, page 110)
The most amazing fact about this tragic period of illness in Nietzsche’s life, and perhaps in part contributing to it, is that he completed a major work of philosophy which broke with his approach in The Birth of Tragedy. A work that had both passionate supporters and critics but mostly left its readership (of which there were only a few hundred) truly nonplused. A work addressing the needs to reorder our perspective in order to bring about “higher culture” in spite of traditional human limitations of being able to fathom “the truth”. He did not yet understand completely what this “higher culture” was but he felt it was killing him to try to discover it. Yet, with a romantic sense of heroism, Fritz chose to pursue what seemed to him to be “the truth”. He freely risked further illness and, perhaps as he feared, even death in order to truly understand the universe existentially without traditional crutches of art, religion, science and even metaphysics itself. With only hard facts acquired by purging our most fundamental hopes and fears.
What is the basis for humanity morally? We are far more psychological than rational creatures, so why favor the enlightenment’s elevation of the significance of the rational mind to a position of respected “height”? What does that say about the Late-Romantic interpretation of reality? How did Christianity come to corrupt the pristine expression of Greek knowledge and understanding in the western world? Nietzsche took these points of departure as certainties that need not even be debated.
Nietzsche managed to complete the work only through the constant help of Gast, Overbeck, Burckhardt, and his sister, Elizabeth. Without them HH might never have been finished. This is the birth of a new direction in Nietzsche’s thought, one he would not abandon until his insanity took him ten years later. The book begins with the premise that the entire foundation for western culture is based upon “errors”.
“It is the sign of a higher culture to esteem more highly the little, humble truths, those discovered by a strict method, rather than the gladdening and dazzling errors that originate in metaphysical and artistic ages and men. At first, one has scorn on his lips for humble truths, as if they could offer no match for the others: they stand so modest, simple, sober, even apparently discouraging, while the other truths are so beautiful, splendid, enchanting, or even enrapturing. But truths that are hard won, certain, enduring, and therefore still of consequence for all further knowledge are the higher; to keep to them is manly, and shows bravery, simplicity, restraint. Eventually, not only the individual, but all mankind will be elevated to this manliness, when men finally grow accustomed to the greater esteem for durable, lasting knowledge and have lost all belief in inspiration and a seemingly miraculous communication of truths.” (HH, section 3)
Thursday, November 26, 2009
"How mild, how conciliatory Nietzsche was then, how much his kind, amiable nature still held the balance with his analytical intellect. How cheerful he still could be, how heartily he could laugh, for despite all seriousness, our little circle was not lacking in humor and joy."(Conversations with Nietzsche, page 83)
Frl. von Meysenbug enjoyed the company of many brilliant thinkers of her day, but none more so than Nietzsche. Between his perpetual bouts of recurring illness, she found Fritz was funny, insightful, innovative, and a superb conversationalist on a wide-range of topics.
"In early spring Ree and Brenner left, each one returning to his hometown. Nietzsche stayed on alone, somewhat distressed because of our evenings, since we both, with our eye ailments, were now deprived of our excellent readers. But Nietzsche said cheerfully: 'Well then, let us converse all the more.' And so it happened, for there never was a lack of rich material for conversations. Thus we discussed among other things, 'The Bride of Corinth,' and Nietzsche remarked that Goethe had had the old vampire legend in mind, which the Greeks had already known in antiquity, and he had wanted to use it to show graphically how the mores and myths of antiquity were darkened into specter like things in the Christian world and how the dark turn which Christianity took very soon distorted the free sensory world of the Greeks and changed a flourishing natural life into a moldy smell and cult of the dead.” (page 86)
As his stay in Sorrento extended into late the spring of 1877, Frl. von Meysenbug came to treat his presence in a more motherly fashion, attempting to offer guidance to his seemingly drifting life. The subject of marriage came up several times in their intimate conversations. Frl. von Meysenbug felt that it was important for someone of Nietzsche's abilities, handicapped by his poor health, to find a help-mate - marriage being the best strategy for Fritz to remain functional and continue with his writing.
Fritz had, in fact, already proposed marriage on two previous occasions. Once, clumsily in by letter to a woman he had just met, which was understandably – if politely - refused. The other time he had fumbled around in his socially inept way and waited too late, what little chance there was in the opportunity had passed to another suitor. For all his artistic and intellectual social skill, when it came to interpersonal matters Fritz was incompetent.
It was around this time that Nietzsche decided to share with von Meysenbug some nearly completed sections of his next major work that he had apparently dictated to Brenner and Ree before their departure.
"One day Nietzsche arrived carrying a large bundle of written pages and told me to read them sometime, they were thoughts that occurred to him during his solitary walks; in particular he identified to me a tree under which, whenever he stood there, and idea always fell down to him. I read the pages with great interest; there were splendid thoughts among them, particularly such as related to his Greek studies; but there were others that puzzled me, that did not at all fit Nietzsche as he had been till now and proved to me that the positivist tendency whose slight beginnings I had already observed during the past winter was starting to take root and to give his ideas new form. I could not avoid telling him about it and urging him to leave these writings aside and to re-examine them after a longer passage of time before releasing them for publication. I told him that, especially in regard to women, he ought to make no final pronouncements yet, since he still really knew far too few women." (page 88)
Although she was somewhat alarmed by what she read, von Meysenbug could not bring herself to believe that this bright and spirited man would ultimately pursue the course upon which his life was about to take. After reading the passages he shared with her she wrote: “…but my faith in Nietzsche's high talent was too solid to regard all this as more than a passing phase of his development, from which his ideality would emerge victorious." (page 89)
In the end, Nietzsche found little respite in Sorrento. For a few weeks it appeared as if his dream of being part of a small spiritual and intellectual “high culture” experiment might become a reality. But, this passed with the departure of Ree. Frl von Meysenbug had higher hopes for Fritz when he originally accepted the invitation to vacation at her villa.
"It was infinitely sad that his health had not improved at all, indeed, the attacks of his ailments, the horrible head- and eye-aches, became even more frequent as the weather got warmer and often forced him to lie in bed day and night in endless torment. His confidence in the South was extinguished, and with the same fervent confidence with which he had looked forward to this journey, he now looked forward to his return to the icy regions of the Alpine world, and moved his department date ahead. I was painfully moved by this failed hope, but could not hold him back, since even the most loving care had proved powerless against this mighty disease and so one had to share his hope that the change might perhaps bring some improvement." (page 89)
It was because of his precarious health that a plan was hatched for Fritz’s immediate future. Hollingdale writes: "After Ree and Brenner had left on the 10th April Nietzsche and Malwida must have got down to considering Nietzsche's future career seriously. Two things seemed at the time to be quite clear: he must leave Basel and he must find a wife. He had already spoken to Elizabeth on the latter topic; and on the 25th April he wrote again:
"'Now, the plan which Frl. von M. thinks we should keep immovably before our eyes, and in which you must help, is as follows: We are convinced that in the long run I shall have to give up my Basel university life, that if I continued there it would be at the cost of all my important designs and would involved a complete breakdown in my health. Naturally, I shall have to remain there during next winter, but I shall finish with it at Easter 1878, provided we bring off the other arrangement, i.e. marriage with a suitable and necessarily well-to-do woman....This project will be pushed ahead this summer, in Switzerland, so that I could come back to Basel already married. Various persons have been invited to come to Switzerland...'” (page 109) Fritz proceeded to list names of such candidates as if he were planning to conduct a kind of pageant.
Hollingdale: "All this seems definite enough; but none of it was to be carried through. Nietzsche was due to return to Basel in the autumn (of 1877), and it was clearly his (and more probably Malwida's) idea that he should pass the intervening time in Switzerland where, through Malwida, he would meet various young ladies and inspect them with a view to making one of them his wife. There is no evidence that he did this; on the contrary, in a letter to Malwida of the 1st July, after he had been traveling in Italy and Switzerland for six months or so, he says he still has that 'pleasant duty' before him." (page 109)
Fritz procrastinated. Frl. von Meysenbug’s plans came to naught. That summer and fall, even as his health slowly got even worse, he finished what would become the first great work of his unique philosophy. After that nothing would ever be the same.
Thursday, October 22, 2009
Frl. Meysenbug’s home provided a suitable environment for rest and rejuvenation within the context of a “spiritual rationality” nested in the peaceful southern Italian surroundings. “The villa stood on the coast a fifteen-minute walk from Sorrento with a view over the open sea to Naples and Vesuvius. ‘We live…in a quarter in which there were only gardens and villas and garden-houses,’ Brenner wrote to his family. ‘The entire quarter is like a monastery.’ Later Nietzsche himself wrote to Reinhard von Seydlitz, a writer and painter with whom he was acquainted: ‘We lived in the same house and moreover we had all our higher interests in common: it was a kind of monastery for free spirits.’ The ‘secular monastery’ which he had discussed with (Erwin) Rhode had, for a short time, become a reality.” (Hollingdale, page 108)
“The friends swam, walked, or worked, depending on the weather. Sometimes they hiked over the mountains south of Sorrento to the Gulf of Sorrento. In the evening, Paul Ree read aloud to the group. From fall to spring their reading and discussion program was quite extensive: they began with notes from Jacob Burckhardt’s lectures on Greek civilization, with commentary by Nietzsche, who had discussed the lectures with Burckhardt in great detail; they went on to read the two great Greek historians, Herodotus and Thucydides, along with Plato’s massive late work, Laws….At Christmas Malwida presented Nietzsche with a huge fan to use as an eye shade, and a red satin sleeping cap with a long red tassel to help keep his head warm night and day, in an effort to fend off headache. To Ree, who claimed that vanity lay at the root of all moral systems, she gave a gilded mirror. While Nietzsche, his eyes protected behind the visor, reclined in his easy chair, and Malwida and Brenner sat close to the hearth, peeling oranges, Ree, seated at a table with a lamp, read to the group. Malwida saw them as ‘an ideal family’ living in a kind of ‘mission house,’ preparing to ‘scatter seed for a newly spiritualized culture.’ During the day, Ree and Nietzsche searched out grottoes along the rocky coast where the fledgling missionaries might instruct their pupils, women and men alike, in the ways of enlightenment and emancipation. By Christmas time the reading program had shifted, perhaps due to Ree’s influence, but certainly in line with Nietzsche’s own desires, to the Frennch moralists and skeptics: Montaigne, La Rochefoucauld, Vauvenargues, La Bruyere, and Stendhal – although the great Voltaire cannot have been neglected. Finally, in spring, the four read and discussed Afrikan Spir’s Thought and Reality, Ranke’s History of the Papacy, and the New Testament. Once again, Nietzsche delivered the principle commentary on the last-mentioned text, for his study in philology had shed light on this fateful book as well. Quite late in his active life, as he was writing The Antichrist, Nietzsche had occasion to remember those discussions in Sorrento.” (The Good European, pages 98, 100)
“The daily regime, beginning with a 7 a.m. cup of warm milk, soon followed by a pot of tea for breakfast, could not have been more wholesome. As Paul Ree reported to Fritz’s sister Elizabeth two weeks after their arrival: ‘After the [breakfast] tea he dictates something and then he goes for a walk before lunch. The lunch, thanks to the loving care of Fraulein von Meysenbug, this clever and angelic lady, is always simple and plentiful. After lunch there is a long, general siesta, then we all go for a walk. Your brother has recently been able to take walks lasting for hours up mountain paths, and this surely is in largely part the reason why has been spared headaches since the latest, brief, but nevertheless severe attack.’ The condition of Nietzsche’s eyes throughout his seven-month stay in Sorrento was such that all he could bring himself to write (with but one or two exceptions) were postcards….Daily life at the Villa Rubinacci soon settled into a calm routine. On days when he was not bedridden and suffering from blinding headaches, Nietzsche spent the morning dictating new paragraphs and aphorisms to his devoted disciple Brenner….Some of these aphorisms were inspired by the stimulating evenings when, before or after dinner, Malwida and her three house guests gathered in the spacious living room….it would be a grave error to believe that, because the readings at the Villa Rubinacci were devoted to ‘classic’ authors and subjects, they were in any way stuffy and pedantic. Malwida von Meysenbug’s memoirs make it clear that they were, on the contrary, constantly enlivened by the wry wit that spiced and peppered so many of Nietzsche’s letters. Not to be outdone, Paul Ree, while reading, would often straight-facedly skip a few pages just to see if his ‘audience’ was still awake and listening – which, to judge by the ensuing protests and laughter, it usually was. So extraordinarily harmonious was this cohabitation between foster-mother and her three adopted ‘children’ that it revived in good Malwida, and impenitent idealist, the desire to set up the kind of model school that she and other kindred souls had founded years ago in Hamburg to further the ‘emancipation’ and education of young women. The many letters she had been receiving from admiring female readers of her memoirs confirmed her in the belief that, with the help of talented ‘professors’ like Friedrich Nietzsche and Paul Ree, it would be possible to establish a ‘kind of haven for missionaries’ (as she put it) where young men and women would be encouraged to ‘develop the noblest faculties of the mind’ before going out into the great world ‘to sow seeds of a new and higher culture’. The scheme generated such fervour among the inmates at Villa Rubincci to nearby grottoes, some of them so large that they resembled vaulted churches, within whose cool interiors, well protected from the torrid summer sun, future ‘disciples’ could gather to listen to the inspired lectures of their ‘teachers’. For to Malwida, as to Nietzsche – both of them in this respect still ardently Schopenhauerian – it went without saying that no such school or ‘colony’ of teachers could possibly thrive in the fetid air of a modern city.” (Cate, pages 233 – 235)
The high leisurely and intellectual atmosphere was precisely what Fritz had been looking for. Here was an opportunity to break from the burdens he felt with his professorship and devote his life to less practical, more idealistic pursuits. He longed to live a life of “high culture” and this was the closest he had ever come to doing so.
If he had also hoped, however, that living such a conducive daily routine might help with his persistent, recurring illnesses, he was mistaken. Though, this lifestyle undoubtedly inspired him and he would dictate to Brenner and Ree many new ideas and passages for a larger philosophic work than he originally planned, Nietzsche nevertheless remained severely limited and debilitated. His actual handwritten capabilities during this time were limited to writing postcards.
“One 1 February, Paul Ree, who had dutifully been supplementing Nietzsche’s laconic postcards with longer letters to Naumburg to keep his mother and sister informed of Fritz’s health and activities, wrote to say that the past six weeks had been exceptionally good, with but two bad days. Unfortunately, one of Nietzsche’s eyes suddenly became even more short-sighted, with an impression of ‘shimmering’ which caused the letters on any page before him to ‘collide’ and to form into lumps. Though Ree was persuaded this as the result of a cold, his friend had been forced to give up all kinds of reading and writing.” (Cate, pages 237 - 238)
By coincidence, Richard Wagner and Cosima were also in Sorrento, vacationing until the end of November from the complex, obsessive atmosphere of Bayreuth. Fritz had several meetings with the man he still admired. The distance between their two minds, however, was becoming sharply definable.
“Wagner met Nietzsche several times: they indulged in long talks, as they had in the Tribschen days – Wagner doing most of the talking, Nietzsche the listening – and outwardly there was harmony. Inwardly, however, Nietzsche was saddened by the impressions he received from his former idol. Wagner, he repeats in his letters of this and a slightly later time, is old and cannot now change his ways. It was not simply a matter of years: Wagner was only 63 and only seven years older than he had been when Nietzsche had first met him; but he was mentally old and his mind was rigidly made up on all conceivable questions.” (Hollingdale, page 108)
”Malwida and her gentlemen visited the Wagners many times over the next few weeks for sightseeing trips or soirees. The most adventurous of their outings was a trip by donkey to Il Deserto, at the tip of the peninsula on which Sorrento is located, in order to celebrate Malwida’s birthday. Yet Cosima’s terse diary entries and Nietzsche’s almost total silence indicate how great the distance between Nietzsche and the Wagners had become. No doubt Nietzsche’s friendship with Ree, who Cosima, after ‘close inspection,’ discovered was an ‘Israelite,’ offended her. At all events, the von Meysenbug party experienced a little relief once the Wagners had departed for Rome on November 7.” (The Good European, page 97)
This would be the last time Nietzsche ever personally saw Wagner. It was the end of one phase of Fritz’s life. Another was dawning. Brenner and Ree left Frl. Meysenbug’s in the spring of 1877. Nietzsche stayed on, his mind alive with his grandest philosophical project to date.
Sunday, September 13, 2009
Fritz felt that his fourth Untimely Meditation was the cultural highlight of Wagner’s Ring Cycle première at Bayreuth. Wagner, too busy with the social magnitude of the opening, failed to personally acknowledge Fritz’s philosophic attempt to place the high art of the event in a greater context. Suddenly, Fritz realized there was no higher context after all. It was the beginning of the final break with Wagner and with Nietzsche’s original line of thinking in The Birth of Tragedy.
“Nietzsche grew aware that these eras of the past could be conjured up in the mind, but their renaissance could be enacted only at the cost of self-deception. A modern mythical consciousness is hollow; it represents systematized insincerity. Wagner had the gods die on stage – a great achievement, in Nietzsche’s view. But Wagner clung to the will to enchantment by means of myth. Nietzsche concurred with him until he realized that once the gods have died, only the aesthetic event remains. Aesthetics can be decked out in myth, but not transformed into a religious event. Making a religion of art was not the answer. Nietzsche began to recognize this clearly before the shock of Bayreuth in 1876, when he experienced firsthand how a hallowed art could deteriorate into banality.” (Safranski, page 140)
“Just as Nietzsche aspired to contribute to the project of moving ‘human knowledge forward,’ he also recognized that this type of work could be achieved only by means of individual inquiries and initiatives….He wanted to attack…to clear out the underbrush of opinions that had choked off the growth of human facts. Myths, the meaning and significance of which he had just finished defending – notably, the Wagnerian mythology of art – now struck him as mystifications that would need to be combated.” (Safranski, page 157)
Seeing how disgruntled and ill he was at Bayreuth in 1876, Malwida von Meysenbug (see photo at right), Fritz’s friend since 1872, extended an invitation for him to stay with her in Sorrento, Italy. She felt the climate and the distance would be good for the professor – to clear his mind and give him some perspective away from Basel. More than that, Frl. Meysenbug had an idea that matched Fritz’s own personal ideal perfectly – to form some sort of artistic and philosophical group, a group of “free spirits” (a term both she and he used) to live the life of a “higher culture.” Fritz was at a low point physically and mentally. The prospect of living among “free spirits” was most appealing to his seemingly directionless life.
“Having a companion to help him was an elementary travel precaution, for Nietzsche’s eyesight had now so deteriorated that he could hardly see. The drastic treatment prescribed by his ophthalmologist, Professor Schiess – atropine eyedrops, derived from the deadly nightshade plant – seems to have aggravated rather than alleviated the head- and eye-aches, and to have been equally ineffective in warding off the serious relapses, which now recurred with painful regularity every eight to ten days. His sister Elizabeth having decided to return to Naumburg after a year-long stay at Basel, Fritz moved back to his old bachelor lodgings…it was a real joy for Nietzsche to be able to share his lunches and dinners …with Dr. Paul Ree, a twenty-seven year old admirer who three years before had been persuaded…to leave Leipzig and come to Basel to follow Nietzsche’s lectures in classical philology....On 26 September Nietzsche wrote Malwide von Meysenbug that he would be accompanied by Dr. Ree (whom she had met at Bayreuth), a scholar of independent means who he described in laudatory terms as having an ‘altogether clear head’ and a ‘considerate, truly friendly soul’.” (Cate, pages 226-227)
“Ree was a pioneer of the psychological approach to problems of philosophy and as such exercised a profound influence on Nietzsche: when Human, All Too Human appeared in 1878 those of his friends who were dismayed by his tone and outlooked blamed Ree, and Nietzsche himself called his new outlook ‘Reealism’…..Ree was an atheist who realized that the ‘religious experience was a reality and tried to account for it with the notion of ‘subjectivism’: belief in God was, he thought, a subjective phenomenon which could be accounted for independently of whether God had any objective existence….Of particular importance for Nietzsche was Ree’s investigation into morality: according to Ree, morality was custom and not ‘nature’, there was no specific moral sense, the good and the evil were no more than conventions. What struck Nietzsche about him was what he called his ‘coldness’, by which he meant his independence and clarity, as a thinker: ‘coldness’ was precisely what Nietzsche himself lacked at this time….Having arrived at the insight that the world was ‘meaningless’, (Ree’s) mind seems to have been paralyzed by the idea: it was the end, as well as the beginning, of his philosophy….For Ree, the senselessness of existence was a source of despair; for Nietzsche, on the contrary, it became the ground for freedom.” (Hollingdale, pages 90-91)
In spite of his physical difficulties, however, Fritz still managed to cobble together some notes for what he thought would be his next Untimely Meditation. It turned out to be the beginnings of a philosophical work that would take up much of his time over the next couple of years. The work was still nebulous at this stage and his notes were interspersed with another essay entitled We Philologists, a critique of the cultural value of his profession, which he never finished.
“In the few weeks between the Bayreuth Festival and his departure for southern Italy, he compiled his notes for an expository essay called ‘The Free Spirit,’ which he had first collected in his notebook under the title ‘The Plowshare.” While working on the project, Nietzsche must have realized that the material would not form a cohesive whole, but would instead retain an aphoristic character. From this point on, Nietzsche had to grapple with a nagging suspicion that the aphoristic form might be an admission of failure. Did he lack sufficient stamina for a sustained treatise?” (Safranksi, page 158)
Due to being virtually incapacitated by his recurring illnesses of headaches and nausea, in October Fritz was released from his teaching duties at Basel for a period of one year. He and Ree traveled together and ultimately arrived at Sorrento, where he would stay a number of months with Frl. Meysenbug.
Today such trips would take some hours, a day at most. But, in Fritz’s time travel took place in the luxury of time. He and Ree would have plenty of time to share ideas. Three weeks in October 1876 were spent lodging and en route to Sorrento. The bulk of those weeks were spent in Bex, Valais, Switzerland, residing at the Hotel du Crochet. But for Fritz there must have been very little writing.
“A bad time leaving Bex; somewhat better in Geneva – had lunch in the Hotel Post….Night journey through Mont Cenis; the next day arrival in Genoa with splitting headache – to bed at once, vomiting, and this state lasting for forty-four hours. Today – Sunday – better; just back from a trip around the harbor and out to sea. Most beautiful evening tranquility and color. Tomorrow (Monday) evening departure by steamer to Naples; we…have decided on the sea journey. Warmest greetings to you. (unsigned letter to Franziska and Elizabeth Nietzsche, Geno, October 22, 1876, Selected Letters, p. 149)
By the time he reached Sorrento Fritz was reconsidering his original idea for The Free Spirit. He thought there was enough material developing in his subject matter that called for a much more ambitious work. It is somewhat amazing that he continued to be productive in his work, his vision for it growing as he battled recurring illnesses. There is an obvious appreciation for ordinary moments in his letters, as he reports mundane aspects of the long and diverse three-week trip.
“The whole journey to here from Bex took eight days. In Genoa I was ill; from there we took three days for the sea journey, and – look! – we were not seasick; I also prefer this way of traveling to train journeys, which are quite terrible for me. We found Frl. Von M(eysenbug) in a hotel in Naples, and traveled together yesterday to our new home, the Villa Rubinacci, Sorrento, near Naples. I have a very high room, with a terrace outside it. I have just got back from my first swim – the water is warmer, according to Ree, that the North Sea in July. Yesterday we were with the Wagners, who are in the Hotel Victoria, five minutes away, and will be staying through November.” (again to mother and sister, October 28, 1876, Selected Letters, page 149)
Thursday, August 13, 2009
His relations with his mother remained on a more even keel. She continued to lovingly wish the best for her son and to harbor hopes that he might one day return to his lost Christian faith. Franziska stayed in Naumburg for most of Nietzsche’s life. Elizabeth was often with her mother, though she traveled a bit more.
Friedrich Nietzsche loved his sister and his mother. For a time, his sister lived with him at his residence at Basel, keeping his modest home in order and attending to various chores. Elizabeth would often take dictation for Fritz when his eyes were too strained to see. She would read to him in the afternoons and evenings. They cohabitated on a very mundane level.
Therefore, he opened up to his sister and his mother in ways he couldn’t to his more intellectual friends. The result is a collection of correspondence which show’s how Fritz lived his days and felt about life beyond his artistic, rational and academic pursuits. These letters present us with a more fleshed out view of who Nietzsche was as a human being.
A letter to Elizabeth dated June 11, 1865, reflects the happy times he had while studying at Bonn University, in this case traveling with choral friends to Cologne where Fritz sang under Ferdinand Hiller: “In the evening we gentlemen from Bonn were setting off to visit the bars together, but were invited by the Cologne Men’s Choral society to dine at the Gurzenich restaurant and stayed there amid carnivalesque toasts and singing, in which the Cologne people blossom forth, amid four-part choruses and mounting enthusiasm. At three in the morning I got away with two acquaintances; and we wandered through the city, ringing doorbells, but found nowhere to sleep, even the post office did not accept us – we wanted to sleep in the delivery vans – till finally a night porter opened the Hotel du Dome for us. We collapsed on the benches in the dining room and were asleep in two seconds. Outside, the sky was brightening. After and hour and a half the house boy came and woke us, for the room had to be cleaned. We left in a state of humorous desperation, walked across the railway station toward Deutz, had breakfast, and went in very subdued voice to the rehearsal, where I fell asleep with great enthusiasm (and obbligato trumpets and drums). I was all the more lively at the afternoon performance from six to eleven, for my favorite things were performed: Schumann’s Faust music and the A Major Symphony of Beethoven. In the evening I was longing for somewhere to sleep, and wandered around to about thirteen hotels, where everything was full of overfull. Finally, in the fourteenth, after the owner assured me that all rooms were full here as well, I told him cold-bloodedly that I would stay here and he had better give me a bed. And it was done – camp beds were set up in the dining room, costing twenty groschen for the night. On the third day the last concert took place at last, in which a number of smaller things were performed. The best moment was the performance of the symphony by Hiller, with its epigraph, 'Spring Must Come.' The musicians were unusually excited, for we all thought most highly of Hiller. After every movement there was immense jubilation and after the last a similar scene, only even more so. Hiller’s podium was covered with wreaths and bouquets. One of the musicians placed a laurel wreath on Hiller’s head, and the orchestra played a threefold flourish. The old man covered his face and wept, which profoundly moved the ladies.” (Selected Letters, pages 9-10)
From May 29, 1869: “Dear Lizbeth: Later that I would have liked, I now have time and opportunity to thank you for your letter and tell you in more detail about my experiences here. First of all, I was glad to hear that you feel comfortable in Leipzig and that you will perhaps find it as useful and pleasant as you had hoped. Certainly it is a stimulating change, and one that will offer you new ideas, compared with the slow rhythm of life in Naumburg.” (page 54) Here we see that Fritz found a more cultured setting largely preferable to the purely pastoral and rural places of his youth.
Fritz might have felt a tad guilty for preferring to spend the Christmas of 1871 with Wagner rather than his family. But, his mind was filled with appreciation for the beginnings of his own ideas and the joy of soon sharing them with the world. He wrote to his mother and sister on December 27: “Well, so now we have reached the limit of the year. I think of the past year with reassurance and level it with gratitude. You will be seeing how it has been, in a certain sense, an epoch-making one for me. My book will soon appear; with it I shall begin the new year, and now people will know what I want, what I aspire to with all my strength – my time of activity begins. Good moments they were in which this book was written; it was a good year, despite its doubtful beginning. Soon health returned; and what lovely warm times in Lugano and Basel and Naumburg and Leipzig I now see in my mind’s eye!” Fritz uses an exclamation point. He understood that with the publication of The Birth of Tragedy his life would change forever, though it obviously turned out differently from his hopes and visions.
In the high autumn of 1872 Fritz wrote to his mother one of the more revealing accounts of the pleasure he found in hiking through the countryside. “It is a peaceful Sunday in Chur, in an afternoon mood. Feeling quite at ease, I mount the road into the country; everything is spread out before me, as on the previous day, in a goldish autumn glow. Glorious views when I look back, the views on either side continuously changing and more spacious. After half an hour a little side path, which brings me into lovely shadow – for till now it has been quite warm. Now I came into the gorge through which the Rabiusa roars, a place I cannot marvel at enough. I walk on, over bridges and on small paths leading along the Cliffside, for about half an hour, and now find, marked by a flag, the springs of Pasugg. At first it disappointed me, for I was expecting a pension, and found only a modest inn, though it was full of Sunday visitors from Chur, of families comfortably feasting and quaffing a lot of coffee. At first I drink three glasses at the saline soda spring; then soon my changed head permits me to add a bottle of Asti spumante – you remember? – and some very soft goat cheese. A man with Chinese eyes, who is sitting at my table, has some of the Asti too; he thanks me and drinks, feeling himself flattered. The innkeeper’s wife hands me a whole mass of analyses of the waters and so on; finally, the owner of the springs, Sprecher, an excited man, conducts me around the property, whose unbelievably fantastic location I have to acknowledge. I drink again, and in good quantities, from the three quite different springs; the owner promises other chief springs besides, and offers me, noticing my interest, the chance to become shareholder in the new hotel – the mockery of it! The valley is entirely charming, for a geologist it has an inexhaustible variety, even capriciousness. There were veins of graphite as well as quartz with ocher, and the owner even had stories to tell of gold deposits. Late, toward sundown, I walk back, very delighted with the afternoon, although my thoughts were often of my arrival – or non-arrival – at Naumburg. (page 110)
Fritz’s health continued to deteriorate after opening of the Ring Cycle at Bayreuth. He was more violently ill than at any time in his recent history. Finally, matters became so bad that he could not even lecture or research. He was bed-ridden most days. The University of Basel granted him one year's medical leave in the fall of 1876. Fritz, along with Paul Ree, a close intellectual friend and admirer of Nietzsche, traveled as companions to stay with Malwida von Meysenbug (more on this in the next post), arriving October 28, 1876. He immediately wrote his mother and sister a short note:
“Here we are, in Sorrento! … Sorrento and Naples are beautiful – people have not been exaggerating. The air here is a mixture of mountain and sea air. It is very soothing for my eyes; from my terrace I look down first on a big green tree garden (which stays green in winter), beyond that the very dark sea, beyond that Vesuvius. Let’s hope. Love and devotion, Your. F." (pages 149 - 150)
Sunday, July 12, 2009
Professor Nietzsche entering the classroom…
“I had not expected the professor to come into the room in the fire of thought, like Burckhardt. And I probably was already learning that provocative tone in a writer does not always match his behavior as a private person. But such modesty, indeed humility, of deportment was surprising to me in Nietzsche.
“Moreover he was of short rather then medium height. His head deep in his shoulders of his stocky yet delicate body. And the gleaming horn-rimmed glasses and the long hanging mustache deprived the face of that intellectual expression which often gives short men an impressive air.
“And yet his whole personality showed anything but indifference to his personal appearance. Here one saw not Jakob Burchhardt’s short haircut, not the crude linens, nor the threadbrare, almost shabby suit, hanging loosely on the laughing stoic’s powerful frame. No, Nietzsche had adjusted to the fashion of the day. He was wearing light-colored pants, a short jacket, and around his collar fluttered a delicately knotted necktie, also of lighter color. Not as if there were anything particularly striking in his wardrobe. Nietzsche was probably trying less to play the dandy…than to suggest something artistic in his appearance. The long hair framing the face not with curls but with only strands of hair suggested this. But how far removed from artistic casualness everything else was that characterized the man! With a heavy, almost weary stride, his little finely shod feet carried him up to the rostrum.
“Nietzsche had a voice! Not the rounded tone of an orator, nor the sharply articulated but really ineffective modulation typical of the pathos of many a university professor. Nietzsche’s speech, soft and natural as it struggled through his lips, had only one thing in its favor: it came from the soul! Hence the strongly agreeable trait was immediately communicated to the hearer, the irresistible power which led me toward ideas which, merely read, would have aroused me to the most vehement contradiction.
“He spoke slowly, often halting, not so much seeking an expression as checking the impression of his dicta to himself. If the thread of thought led him to something particularly extreme, then his voice also sank, as if hesitatingly, down to the softest pianissimo. The warmth of his presentation, the manner in which this worldview took shape before us in his words, nonetheless gave the impression of something new and completely individual. It lay like a cloud on this man’s entire being. Then suddenly the speaker gave his sentences a sharp epigrammatic twist. An aphorism instead of a conclusion. Nietzsche sank back into his chair as if listening. Then he got up slowly. And gently and silently as he had come, he walked back out the door.” Conversations with Nietzsche, edited from pages 65-67)
Being invited to Fritz’s apartment, obviously well-kept and decorated by Elizabeth.
“…in Nietzsche’s apartment, soft large armchairs invited one to sit down. They had white lace coverlets with delightful flower patterns…Bouquets of violets and young roses! And when one was half sunk into a gigantic armchair, one’s gaze fell again on fresh flowers! In glasses, in bowls, on tables, in corners, competing in their discrete mixture of colors with the watercolors on the walls! Everything airy, aromatic and delicate! Lightly curtained windows, filtering the glare of daylight, made one feel like a guest invited not to a professor’s house but to a beloved girlfriend’s. Nor was this impression dispersed when the harmonious tones of Nietzsche’s pleasant voice broke the silence of the room.
“The Professor, as I said, did the honors himself, serving the tea with a smile that glided across his blank face like a ray of sunshine. Yet there was something constrained about his social demeanor, and the conversation would soon have lapsed, had not Koselitz (Peter Gast) taken it over with his pleasant loquacity. So Nietzsche was able to lean back in his easy chair with the tiredness I was accustomed to observe in him, and he played the role of listener making occasional brief remarks.
“Nietzsche had taken off his glasses while I was speaking. I felt his large lusterless eyes focused on me. A challenge for me to describe my impressions all the more graphically! But suddenly I was unable to continue, especially since a deep sigh of the Professor’s had already confused me.
“I had begun speaking about ourselves, about Jakob Burkhardt’s youthful audience! I stressed that just as the master rejected all pedantry almost passionately and sought to stimulate only our individual interest in the subject, so we his followers tried to clarify our taste for art completely personally. …Even the boldest remained still before Holbein’s self-portrait in the hall of drawings! And I now struggled futilely in Nietzsche’s presence to define the magical attraction of that wonderful portrait. It did not help that I so-to-speak traced line after line of that face. This approach was combined with the charm of fresh youth. And I failed to capture even the individual traits in their full value. I faltered when I came to the mouth. I could see the lips before me. So fully rounded yet so energetically closed@! Not avid, yet as if created for pleasure!
“’A mouth…,’ I stammered bewilderedly.
“’A mouth to kiss!’”
“Disconcertingly I looked aside. Truly, it was Nietzsche who had spoken, in a attitude and a tone which seemed to contrast most strangely with the mildly sensual coloration of his words. For leaning far back in his armchair, his head bowed onto his chest and his arms hanging limply on the armrests, he seemed to have spoken out of a dream rather than as a comment on my report.
“It was natural that after that visit a more friendly association developed between the professor and me. We conversed not only after class, but occasionally I accompanied him part of the way home with or without ‘Peter Gast.’ We then spoke not of Plato, but of travel destinations, of a hike in autumn, and his whole being became visibly animated each time. But once I was to find myself in a most special situation with him. Alone in class with him! Yes, once he gave me his lecture to me alone!!
“…he received me with the greatest friendliness, indeed with a new cheerfulness I had never seen in him. He shook my hand with a smile and then swung up to the rostrum more elastically than ever.
“Heraclitus! I will never forget how Nietzsche characterized him. If not that lecture, at least what he had to say about the sage of Ephesus will be found in his posthumous papers. I always feel a shudder of reverence when I think of the moving end of that lecture. Words of Heraclitus! According to Nietzsche they summed up the innermost motive of an Ionian philosopher’s thought and intention (and his own?) He drew a breath in order to pronounce the sentence. It resounded then fully in the harmonious tones of the Greek original text. More tonelessly yet understandably in German. Nietzsche folded the pages of his manuscript together as he said: ‘I sought myself!!’” - (Conversations with Nietzsche, edited from pages 69-73)
This offers details of a very mundane Nietzsche. Almost without exception, the people who knew Fritz saw him as genteel and considerate. As a brilliant, though unconventional scholar with a superb grasp of ancient Greek language and thought. As a fatigued man, yet with intense energy, a long hiker. As a sick man, his body in recovery as often as he was ill (perhaps largely due to hypochondria, perhaps an untreated syphilis, though no one of his time knew the things that historical research as uncovered). Fritz possessed a need for pupils, for anyone to listen to him other than Elizabeth, Overbeck, Peter Gast, Wagner (who now apparently saw Fritz merely as part of a vast crowd of necessary persons) and a very limited number of previous friendships and associations, while still not completely knowing what he was driving at.
Fritz lived for a time in Basel in a quiet suburb, surrounded by flowers, rather routinely speaking of art over tea in moments when he let the world in. He was internally wrestling with his relationship to Wagner now that Wagner had achieved his goal. Fritz didn’t know what his own goal was. It was so fragmented we can only now see the connection and foundation of it all as it ties to his writings later in life as one of the world’s greatest philosophers. Fritz was yet to be intimately acquainted with the intellectual equivalent of his passion for art and music and bold yet vague notions.
That was about to change.
Saturday, June 20, 2009
It was Overbeck who knew Rohde through Nietzsche and suggested the provocative title After-Philology to Rohde’s splendidly written defense of Nietzsche’s polemic against David Strauss. In spite of drifting apart philosophically – with Overbeck changing very little and Nietzsche changing (or clarifying) much – Overbeck was a staunch supporter of Nietzsche's early works.
Franz Overbeck was the perfect compliment to Fritz’s personality. He was an intellectual of high regard, appreciative of the arts – particularly music, broad-minded, honest, caring, reliable, genteel, and reserved yet steadfast in his opinions. “Of him Nietzsche wrote: ‘Overbeck is the most serious, candid, personally lovable, and least complicated person and researcher one could have wished for in a friend. At the same time, he has this radicality I need to have in all people with whom I associate.’ Many years later he would confess to Overbeck that Overbeck’s loyalty and friendship had in fact saved his life: ‘In the midst of life I was ‘surrounded’ by my good Overbeck – otherwise that other companion would perhaps have risen to greet me: Mors.’”(The Good European, page 73)
The “radicality” to which Fritz refers came in the form of a critical academic tract entitled On the Christian Quality of Theology Today, which “came out simultaneously with Nietzsche’s ‘untimely’ essay on Strauss – and his friends considered their two attacks on the zeitgeist as twins. Overbeck’s later works were scholarly rather than polemical.” (Kaufmann, page 30, note) One can easily imagine the two discussing their respective works in progress over evening meals. It is not too conjectural to assume their mutual interest in the “zeitgeist” and the way their respective works were viewed by their shared friends was a fundamental basis for the solidification of their closeness.
For his trouble, Overbeck’s work in theology eventually forced him and his wife from the Church, something that certainly Fritz could relate to in terms of his own personal break from Christianity some years beforehand. “Overbeck’s ‘shocking’ thesis was that it was impossible to reconcile Christian theology, which had evolved over the centuries as a distinctly intellectual interpretation of the Gospels, with the primitive faith of Jesus’ disciples, who had lived in naïve expectation of the end of the world and the ‘second coming’. But what had particularly annoyed his publisher was Overbeck’s critique of David Strauss’s best-selling apologia of a popular, positive and painless Christianity. He had refused to publish such an iconoclastic work for fear of offending ‘German public opinion’. (Cate, page 174)
But, as mentioned, there was far more to their friendship than simply the academic, intellectual level. Franz “surrounded” Fritz in a globe of relative security. Franz tended to Fritz often when Fritz was ill. When Fritz traveled away from Franz, Franz would reliably act as a coordinator of telegraphs and letters to Fritz’s other friends making management of Fritz’s activities easier. We should not underestimate the simple physical fact that for years these two men sat down regularly at evening meals and lived in the same place together. The bonding aspect of such regular, frequent encounters was in and of itself unique to Fritz outside of his child and student years with his sister Elizabeth and his mother.
Franz helped Fritz at the keyboard for several weeks in 1871 with Fritz’s musical composition and Christmas gift to Cosima Wagner (simultaneously a second copy given to Elizabeth and his mother) Nachklang einer Silvesternacht. Franz greatly assisted (along with von Gersdroff) Fritz with the completion of Nietzsche’s essay on History. Franz totally connected with Fritz on Wagner’s Bayreuth project. Overbeck was at the opening of the Ring in 1876, enjoying the festivities that Nietzsche suddenly found so decadent. When Fritz wasn’t running away ill he enjoyed Overbeck’s company in the socializing aspects of Bayreuth.
Franz’s marriage to Ida Rothpletz (see post of May 10, 2009 for Ida’s first intimate impressions of Nietzsche) must have created a huge void in Fritz’s personal life. His closest friend of regular contact became part of a couple of regular contact. A different dynamic completely. His friend had a woman but Nietzsche did not. Perhaps this is why Fritz was briefly attracted to the married Louise Ott. Trying to compensate for the void.
“It is difficult, I think, to exaggerate the psychological impact that this ‘happy event’ – Overbeck’s betrothal, announced in early January (1876) – had had on Friedrich Nietzsche. Franz Overbeck was clearly succeeding where Carl, Fritz, and even Erwin Rohde had so far failed. On April 4 Overbeck wrote to Nietzsche from Zurich in an effort to cheer him up. He too was not happy at the prospect of soon having to return to Basel, and of being separated from his beloved Ida. ‘I can only say to you, find yourself one like her and let this aim too…incite you to good health.’ There followed a description of his fiancée’s keyboard talents, ably developed by an expert pianist, Robert Freund, who had once been the pupil of Tausig and Liszt.” (Cate, page 218)
Fritz was unable to bring himself to attend Franz’s wedding in August 1876.
Their relationship, unlike with any of Fritz’s other friends, was often mundane and entirely ordinary. Therefore, surprisingly little evidence of the course of their daily associations exists. But Overbeck’s friendship affected Nietzsche as evidenced when Nietzsche surveyed the first ten years of their friendship in a letter to Overbeck in 1880: “You will be deep in your work, dear friend, but a few words from me will not disturb you. It always does me good to think of you at your work; it is as if a healthy natural force were blindly working through you, and yet it is a force of reason which operates in the subtlest and most tricky material, and which we have to tolerate whenever it behaves impatiently and doubtfully for letting me watch the spectacle of your life from so close at hand – indeed, Basel has made me the gift of your image and of Jakob Burckhardt’s; I think it is not only with regard to knowledge that these two images have been very useful to me. The dignity and grace of an original and essentially solitary way of living and knowing – this is the spectacle which was ‘delivered to my door’ by favor of destiny, a favor which I cannot overestimate – and consequently I left that house a different person from the one who entered it.” (Selected Letters, pages 173-174)
Interestingly enough, this letter, though mailed obviously in Nietzsche’s often difficult to read handwriting, was unsigned.
Monday, May 25, 2009
The essay is the last of four that are collected under the heading of Untimely Meditations or Unmodern Observations (which is the translation I own). Nietzsche worked on a fifth essay pertaining to philology but he never completed it. Originally, he and his publisher were anticipating about a dozen essays, but no more were ever written or published under this heading. Once more we find Fritz adrift.
The fourth meditation was published in the audience program for the opening of the Ring Cycle at Bayreuth in 1876. It espouses aspects of Wagner’s philosophy that Nietzsche found most appealing, it focuses more on Wagner as representing the concept of “the heroic artist” rather than on his music. Nietzsche cast himself in the same heroic mold, though as a philosopher not a composer.
As mentioned earlier, the piece would have never been completed without Peter Gast’s urging and assistance. Fritz felt it to be too personal for publication. It expresses rather crisply Nietzsche’s own views of “culture” and “society” at the time.
He was fundamentally optimistic. “…the power of Hellenic culture once again waxes;” (section 4) He proclaimed that Wagner’s art was “the very essence of the dithyrambic dramatist. If we use this term in its fullest sense to include at once actor, poet, and musician…” (section 7) It seems that a combination of various creative disciplines and talents were a quality of “greatness” for Nietzsche.
But, as would become more pronounced in his later works, the great artist is always struggling. “Wagner’s essential life – that is the gradual emergence of the dithyrambic dramatist – was at the same time an endless battle with himself.” (section 8)
Struggle within a world grinding the spirit out of itself. “…Wagner understood the whole humiliating position in which art and the artist find themselves, how soulless or callous society, which calls itself good and is really evil, includes art and artists in its slavish entourage for gratification of its imagined needs. Modern art is a luxury; this he understood as thoroughly as the corollary that it will stand or fall with the legitimacy of this luxury society. This society knows nothing beyond the most callous and cunning use of its power to render those who are powerless, the people, ever more abject, subservient, and unlike a people, and to transform then into the modern ‘worker’. It has also deprived the people of their greatest and purest things – things they have created out of the profoundest necessity, and through which they – the true, the only artist – gently communicate their spirit: their myth, song, dance, and innovation in language, in order to distill a sensuous antidote to the exhaustion and boredom of their existence – modern art.” (section 8)
I find this passage remarkable in that it clearly defines Nietzsche’s idealistic roots against the emerging capitalist/democratic society (which were very much Wagner’s own opinions we should add, this was a point of central agreement between Wagner and himself). Society remains a “souless and callous” “power” transforming an ironically peopleless people into “the modern worker”. The “true artist”, the “dithyrambic dramatist”, was a combination of “actor, poet, and musician” bringing a cultural renewal of “myth, song, dance, and innovation in language”. This was the way Fritz thought about “this luxury society” of his day - what has transformed today into what I would refer to as the functional consumerist culture.
Nietzsche compares his artist ideal with an ancient Greek upon whom he was an expert. The artist is “a supreme sculptor who, like Aeschylus, points the way to an art of the future.” (section 9)
Nietzsche was an idealist about the power of the future. “But, in general, the generous impulse of the creative artist is too great, the horizon of his love of man too extensive for his sight to remain enclosed within the national reality. His thoughts are, like those of every good and great German, supra-German, and the language of his art speaks not to nations but to men. But to men of the future! That is his uniquely personal belief, his torment and his distinction: no artist of whatever past has received such a remarkable dowry with his genius, no body but he has had to drink these utterly bitter drops with every draught of nectar that enthusiasm proffered him.” (section 10)
He declared, more or less, his existential position about reality tinged with his most heartfelt hope. “…that passion is better than stoicism and hypocrisy; that honesty, even in evil, is better than losing oneself within traditional morality; that the free man can be good as well as evil, but the unfree man is a disgrace of Nature and shares in neither heavenly nor earthly consolation; finally that freedom falls in no body’s lap like a miraculous gift. However shrill and incredible these phrases may seem, they are the sounds of that future world, a world that truly needs art and can also expect true satisfaction from art.” (section 11)
This was the idealistic Nietzsche at his best. The trouble was this no longer fit into the reality of how he experienced life and Wagner. He was beginning to forge distinctive ideas of his own, only kept in notebooks to this point, and this caused him to suddenly see Wagner not so much as a genius as a decadent. In 1876, the whole Bayreuth metaphysic, something he had intimately devoted several years of his life to, now seemed hollow and sick. He experienced nausea just after a few days of the opening of Das Rheingold. He sought out his sister, Elizabeth, to nurse him through violent, recurring bouts of illness. It disrupted his life. For him Bayreuth became a carnival of the worst kind.
“Nietzsche traveled to Bayreuth in August for the Festpiel, yet immediately became disgruntled with the high society of ‘Hans Wahnfried’ and the pomp and circumstance of the festival; he fell desperately ill, left Bayreuth before the second cycle of the Ring was performed, returned, then left again, now for the last time.” (The Good European, pages 95-96) Clearly, Fritz was indecisive about whether or not to remain at the opening of the Ring at Bayreuth. Apparently, he wanted to be there but it made him sick to be there.
However, Fritz doesn’t seem to have developed the need to abandon Bayreuth completely until a woman he met had first left. Perhaps this was his main reason for returning to Bayreuth after all. For a few days he befriended and my have become infatuated with a married woman conceivably on intimate term as he had Cosima Wagner years before. “For he himself had suffering eyes only for another lovely blonde creature, named Louise Ott. An inhabitant of Strasbourg who had moved to Paris with her Protestant husband after the German Reich’s annexation of Alsace and Lorraine, she was a rabid Wagnerian as well as a gifted singer and connoisseur of German and Russian music. Their ‘romance’, if such it can be called, seems to have been as momentarily intense as it was platonic. She was fascinated by the mysterious depth of Nietzsche’s gaze as well as by the elegance and diction and the exceptional ‘nobility’ of his thinking, devoid of all trace of platitudes. He for his part felt that he had met a kindred soul, capable of fully sharing his most elevated thoughts and feelings.
“’Everything was dark around me when you left Bayreuth,’ he wrote to her three days after his return to Basel, ‘it was as though someone had removed the light. I first had to pull myself together, but that I have now done…” (Cate, page 225)
He was never to meet Mrs. Ott again.
Sunday, May 10, 2009
We have seen glimpses of Nietzsche’s mind and personality in his own writings and letters. But, there is a large body of material available regarding what those who knew Fritz thought of him. A clearer picture of just who Nietzsche was can be found when one takes their writings into consideration.
Fritz enjoyed many friendships in his student days at Pforta and at Bonn. While attending Bonn he had the reputation of going out and drinking rather heavily, usually with a group of young men. These were his “party days” and there was no shortage of drinking buddies to accompany him. Perhaps the foremost of these was Paul Deussen, a friend at Pforta who decided to go with Fritz to Bonn to study theology. Deussen stayed with theology, ultimately graduating from the University of Bonn while Nietzsche switched to philology and at went to Leipzig.
It is obvious that, regardless who it was, a significant basis for any friendship with Nietzsche was a love for a wide range of aesthetic subjects as well as the enjoyment of long walks…and a sense of humor.
“On our solitary walks all possible subjects of religion, philosophy, literature, the fine arts, and music were discussed; often our thoughts trailed off into obscurity, and when words then failed, we looked each other in the eye, and said to one another, ‘I know what you mean.’ This expression became a familiar saying between us; we resolved to avoid it as trivial and had to laugh when occasionally it nonetheless slipped out.” (Conversations with Nietzsche, page 14)
Duessen is our only primary source regarding Fritz visiting brothels. Or rather, a brothel. His telling of things, however, seems a bit contrived as Fritz did nothing at the brothel except have an anxiety attack and bang two very loud notes on the parlor piano and leave. I suspect he probably banged more than that and on future occasions as well.
Much later, in 1888, it was Duessen who “persuaded a number of Berlin friends to make a joint donation of 2,000 marks to cover the publishing costs of future books”. (Cate, page 522) Deussen was close enough to be chosen as Fritz’s “second” in the one and only duel Nietzsche fought in his life. With foils. He wrote about 1865: “Of course the dueling floor was visited zealously; even Nietzsche practiced as well as he could…With some foreboding I saw the day approaching when our friend, who was somewhat corpulent…and moreover very myopic, would have to undergo an adventure for which his qualifications were so ill-suited. After barely three minutes the opponent applied a cut diagonally across the bridge of Nietzsche’s nose right where too hard a pinch leaves a red mark. The blood was dripping to the ground…I loaded my well-bandaged friend into a carriage and took him home…and in two or three days our hero recuperated except of a tiny diagonal scar across the bridge of his nose, which he kept all his life and which did not look bad on him.” (pages 22-23)
A. Fritsch was an acquaintance of Fritz’s at Pforta.
“I came to know Nietzsche through music. In the central building of the institution was a room which contained the best piano. Only a few students selected by the music professor were allowed to play this piano. It was mostly afternoons between four and five. I first came in personal contact with Nietzsche on these practice afternoons, to which I was also admitted despite my great youth. He often played for us; he also liked to improvise on the piano, which made a great impression on all of us. We all idolized him somewhat in those days, for he wrote poetry and, what especially impressed me, he also composed wonderful pieces of music.” (page 17)
Fritz met Ida Rothpletz, the future wife to Franz Overbeck (whose special friendship we will discuss in a future post), in 1870. Ida recorded her initial thoughts regarding one afternoon when Fritz, Franz and Ida all enjoyed performing some music together. I think her more critical appreciation of Fritz is indicative of how well she and her husband knew him and respected him very intimately.
“He gave me the impression of a very introverted, somewhat ailing man. He tended to avoid encounters and conversations; but if they took place, then he was striking for the cordiality and earnestness he developed and seemed to direct to his counterpart. One immediately felt challenged to tell him something that one felt to be important. During a music session we played him Brahms’ four-handed love-waltz and Beethoven’s Opus 26. He listened attentively, then replied with Wagner’s ‘Eulogy’ from Die Meistersinger. He played it freely and seemed to reproduce it according to a performance he had heard rather than a studied extract of sheet music. In later years I heard it played again by him in exactly the same manner. He had no virtuosity, played almost hard and squarely, seeking the tones in memory, then on the keyboard.” (page 32)
One of Fritz’s physicians, Dr. Promitz, recalled the effect of Nietzsche’s aversion to strong sunlight on the atmosphere of his lectures in the early 1870’s at Basel.
“Since his eyes needed protection at an early age, even with moderate sunlight the window blinds had to be kept half-shut. The beneficial twilight heightened even further the magic effect of his method of instruction, which was completely ruled by the spirit of aesthetic freedom. He was far from any rigid pedantry and unhesitatingly allowed the reasonable use of German translations, provided we read as many Greek authors as possible with pleasure. Now it happened quite often that he randomly asked: ‘Now tell me, what is a philosopher?’ After the astonished student’s not very exhaustive reply he finished the class with a captivating extemporization.” (page 37)
Rudolf Eucken was a colleague at Basel and interacted often with Fritz at various academic parties. This remembrance is from the spring of 1871…
“I still remember vividly how amiable Nietzsche was toward doctoral candidates, how he was never unfriendly or excited, but discussed in a kind but superior manner; one got a most favorable impression. Then we often met at small parties, where he proved to be a pleasant conversationalist, without any trace of pettiness or malice; he was more reserved than obtrusive, but he could tell charming little stories and he was not without humor.” (page 40)
Malwida von Meysenberg would play a significant role in Nietzsche’s life. We will cover this in detail in a future post. She initially met Fritz in June 1872 at a Wagner concert. He was with Carl von Gersdorff at the time. She knew Nietzsche’s intensity, his gentility, and his joking manner.
“…the performance of Tristan and Isolde in Munich under the direction of Hans von Bulow. During the intermissions the two gentlemen (Fritz and Carl) …we walked around in the aisles of the first row in a joyful and excited mood, praising the high work of art we had seen. ‘I feel so happy,’ said Nietzsche, ‘not at all stormily excited, as was prophesied of this work, but internally happy and delighted that such a thing could have been created and performed so magnificently.’ And it was indeed a magnificent performance. We parted in cordial friendship, and there now began between us a correspondence which was for many years among the dearest of my associations. Here I first got to know Nietzsche’s amiable, friendly, kindly nature, of which the present letter gives eloquent evidence. He always wanted to help. To be useful, to do something kind and friendly for his friends, and even the sharpest excesses of his critically negative reason had a touch mitigating humor that often led us from the deepest seriousness to merriment and laughter.” (page 49)
Ida von Miaskowski was one of several female acquaintances Fritz had during this time. He was not romantically involved with any of them. Generally, the interaction involved music and literature. At social gatherings, Fritz apparently enjoyed reading aloud in addition to performing on the piano. Often the reading choice was a witty one.
“’For this evening Professor Nietzsche is said to have once again obtained a simply magnificent book to read aloud from.’ It was Mark Twain’s humorous short stories, which had just been published.”
“In the winter of 1874-75 Nietzsche also came every Friday afternoon to accompany my singing. He always brought many new scores, which we studied and practiced together. At the end my husband used to join us, while Nietzsche improvised or played extracts from Wagner’s operas, which he always did from memory and very masterfully.” (page 52)
Of special significance was Fritz’s friendship with Peter Gast. Gast was the pseudo-name of Heinrich Koselitz who was a mediocre composer that took a great deal of interest in Nietzsche’s early work. For his part, Fritz found Gast an invaluable assistant. Like so much of his work, less would have been accomplished due to Nietzsche’s constantly recurring (perhaps partly psychosomatic) sicknesses without the assistance of friends, particularly Gast.
“Closer relations with Nietzsche began for me, however, really only from the moment he told me that he had begun but left incomplete an Untimely Meditation on Richard Wagner. This was at about the end of April 1876….he considered the work too personal for publication. From that time on I helped Nietzsche by taking dictation (and at times by reading aloud), at first very rarely, but almost daily from September 1876 until he went to Sorrento, then again in the winter semester 1877-78 until my departure for Venice (April 1878). From Untimely [Meditations] IV until the end of 1881 I also read without exception every proof of his successive works for publication.” (page 59)
Nietzsche would champion the composer’s music under the name of “Peter Gast” at times throughout these years. Most likely he advocated Gast, in part, as a tool in his growing assault against Wagner, as he ironically broke from Wagner at the moment of Wagner’s highest achievement and at the time of the publication of “Wagner at Bayreuth.” It would be a profound crisis in his young life. But, Fritz also advocated Gast out of being a genteel person. He wanted his friend to succeed and he wanted to help him. It was this quality that Malwida von Meysenberg and Franz Overbeck saw so clearly in him and it drew him many personal admirers.
Gast would help convince Nietzsche to finish the essay on Wagner.
Monday, April 20, 2009
“What Nietzsche most missed in Basel was the stimulating theater and concert life he had first encountered in Cologne and later relished in Leipzig. The old patrician town lacked a concert hall that could stand comparison with the famous Gewandhaus, while it’s stage offerings were so wretched that Nietzsche stigmatized Basel as being a place that was ‘hostile to the Theater-Graces’. In Leipzig he had been surrounded, stimulated and consoled by a circle of young friends…but in Basel he had no close friends or colleagues who were at all close to his age. The historian Jacob Burckhardt was twenty-six years older.” (Cate, page 91)
Among anyone at Basel: “It was Jacob Burckhardt…who developed the closest ties to Nietzsche. Burckhardt…felt drawn to the brilliant young scholar; they shared passionate interests in music, art, and cultural questions generally. To be sure, Burckhardt remained a champion of Weimar classicism: if the young Nietzsche favored the music of pathos over ethos, emotion over mood, and thus Wagner and Beethoven over Haydn and Mozart, Burckhardt instinctively held to the classical scheme. In later years Nietzsche would send Burckhardt every book he published, and Burckhardt would read and admire them all, without claiming to understand them. During their years together in Basel, each of the two knew how to appreciate their association without confusing it with the Aristotelian ‘friendship of equals’.” (The Good European, p. 69)
Burckhardt was acquainted with both Erwin Rohde and Carl von Gersdorff but he was not an intimate friend of the other two gentlemen. Jacob knew the other two only through Fritz. Burckhardt, as a professor of history was impressed with The Birth of Tragedy. He defended it as an important scholarly work. “…Nietzsche’s tragico-musical interpretation of Greek cultural history was more illuminating in its insights than the classic vision of the Greeks as a race of serene, beauty-and-harmony-loving optimists. But Burckhardt’s open-mindedness was not shared by most of his university colleagues.” (Cate, page 144)
Fritz and Jacob were probably not on a first name basis. But, Burckhardt was initially Nietzsche’s only friend at Basel. They enjoyed long walks together and Fritz was particularly intrigued with Burckhardt’s extensive knowledge of Greek cultural history. Burckhardt helped Nietzsche interpret current events like the Franco-Prussian War. Their conversations were intense and Nietzsche greatly valued Burckhardt’s experience and perspectives.
In December 1871, Nietzsche wrote Rohde regarding Burckhardt. This demonstrates the basis for the connection of some of his friendships. “I have spent some good days with Jakob Burckhardt, and we have many discussions about Greek matters. I think that one could learn a great deal about such matters in Basel at present. He has read your Pythagoras essay with great interest and has copied out parts for his own use; what you say about the whole development of the Pythagoras image is certainly the best that has been so far said on this very serious subject.” (Selected Letters, page 85)
Fritz was a fellow student of Erwin’s at the University of Leipzig. It was a curious friendship. “Their particular interests and judgments often differed greatly, generating heated arguments. But Nietzsche appreciated his friend’s stubborn defense of his opinions and the ironic scorn he felt for the pedagogical vanities of teachers and student colleagues. To this must be added a final cementing factor: a joint veneration of Schopenhauer, often ascending to mystical heights of hero worship….The two ‘Prussian patriots’ spent many evenings together at the local rifle club, where they indulged in target practice.” (Cate, page 76) The two also took riding lessons together.
Being separated from Erwin, Fritz maintained a large correspondence with him. A letter from 1868 reflects the well-known basis for most of Fritz’s friendships. “Let us think of Schopenhauer and Richard Wagner, of the indestructible energy with which they kept faith in themselves throughout the hullaballooing of the whole ‘educated’ world; and if it is not permissible to invoke any deos maximos, we always have the consolidation that eccentrics cannot be denied the right to exist and that two eccentrics of one mind are a happy spectacle for the gods.” (SL, page 41)
In 1870, Rohde went with Nietzsche to Tribschen and spent several days with Wagner. The three discussed art, music, drama, and, of course, Schopenhauer. Erwin, like Fritz, an ardent supporter of Wagner’s Bayreuth project, accompanied Nietzsche at a performance of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony as part of the laying of the foundation stone ceremony at Bayreuth in 1872. The two obtained special seating by Wagner in honor of being considered “his” (Wagner’s) two professors. Rohde became a professor of philology at the University of Kiel that same year.
Fritz confided to Rohde something he, perhaps, could never admit to Burckhardt, his professional colleague at Basel, in March 1871: “From philology I feel exuberantly remote in a way which is quite disgraceful. Praise and blame on that side of things, even all the highest glories, make me shudder. Thus I am gradually habituating myself to being a philosopher, and already I believe in myself, I would even be prepared for it if I were to become a poet.” (SL, page 79) Even before the publication of The Birth of Tragedy, Nietzsche viewed his profession with increasing distain. Though he was considered a prodigy in the subject, it brought him no genuine satisfaction. He longed for more metaphysical pursuits and Rhode knew it.
Like all of Fritz’s most intimate friends, Erwin was a stanch supporter of The Birth of Tragedy when it appeared. He composed an extensive 48-page response to some attacks made on the work, itself boldly entitled Afterphilologie. The two friends were guests once more of Wagner’s in 1873, visiting both the composer’s unfinished new home and the far from completed opera house. Visions of future grandeur danced in both their minds.
In 1874, Nietzsche excitedly wrote to his friend with an update on Wagner’s cash-strapped vision. “Now about Bayreuth! From Frau Wagner we know – and it is meant to be a secret among Wagner’s friends – that the king of Bavaria is supporting the project in the form of subsidies up to 100,000 talers, which means that operations (machines, decorating) will be vigorously speeded up. Wagner himself writes that the deadline is 1876; he is in good spirits, and believes that the undertaking is now in the clear. God grant that it may be! This fearful waiting is hard to recover from; sometimes I really had quite given up hope.” (SL, page 123)
The distance between the two friends grew wider as the years past. Rohde pursued his own career at Kiel. But the two continued to correspond regularly. In 1876, Rohde informed Nietzsche that he was to be married. Fritz’s response to the news was tinged with an introspective sadness. “May it be for the best, dear loyal friend, the news you have sent me, really for the best: I wish you this with the fullness of my heart. So you will be building your nest, then, in the year of grace 1876…I shall even be able to think of you with greater assurance, even if I should perhaps not follow you in taking this step. For you needed so badly a completely trusting soul, and you have found her and have found therewith yourself on a higher level. For me it is different, heaven knows, or does not know. It does not seem to be all that necessary, except on rare days. Perhaps I have here a bad gap in myself. My desire and my need are different – I hardly know how to say it or explain it.” (SL, page 145)
Indeed for Fritz it was very different. Surrounded, as we shall see, by friendships and good companions, nevertheless his thoughts took him places no one else could seemingly follow. Even as he encircled himself with fascinating people of intellectual wit and artistic merit he found himself ever more alone. Alone.