Monday, May 31, 2010

The Wanderer finds Sils-Maria

Fritz ended his professorship at Basel as sick and broken as he had ever been. He first returned home to his sister’s and mother’s care. The family, still slightly strained over Fritz’s unchristian thinking, nevertheless remained on intimate, friendly terms. Fritz thought of becoming his mother’s gardener in the autumn of 1879. One can reasonably assume that Fritz got his hands dirty with at least some minor tending of the soil and shrubs of his mother’s home in Naumberg. He took a liking to it, but it was a fleeting thought for such a restless mind hungry to express itself.

“’My existence is a fearful burden,’ Nietzsche wrote to his doctor, Otto Eiser of Frankfort am Main, in January 1880: ‘I should have thrown it off long ago had I not been making the most instructive tests and experiments in the intellectual-moral field precisely in this condition of suffering and almost complete renunciation – this joy in seeking for knowledge carries me to heights where I overcome all torments and all hopelessness. On the whole I am happier than ever before in my life: and yet! continual pain; for many hours of the day a feeling much like seasickness; a semi-paralysis which makes it hard for me to talk, alternating with furious attacks (the last one had me vomiting for three days and nights, I longed for death.)’” (Hollingdale, page 125)

Fritz stayed home for roughly five months. In February 1880, he was accompanied by Heinrich Koselitz (Peter Gast - see pic at right) on a winding trip that ended up in Venice until mid-summer. During this time he began to write (on days when his eyes permitted it) and worked with Koselitz on the follow-up book to Human, All Too Human ultimately entitled in German as Morgenrote.

“Nietzsche’s life in Venice soon settled into a regular, generally nerve-soothing routine. After a long, bracing walk in the morning along the north-facing sea-front and a Spartan lunch, he was usually joined at 2:15 p.m. by Koselitz, who spent the next hour and a half reading out loud, or sometimes taking dictation. A second reading session took place in the evening from 7:30 to 9 o’clock.

“By adopting a simple diet of risotto and calf’s meat, in addition to a frugal supper of porridge, Nietzsche managed to survive his first six weeks in Venice without a single stomach upset. But, he wrote on 3 May to his sister Elisabeth (who had by now returned to Naumberg) ‘the intellectual diet is an unbelievably difficult thing for the productive man, and I have to atone for each offence’ – he meant of ‘free-thinking’ and hurried note scribbling – ‘with a nervous seizure.’ These notes were intended for a new book…

“It was all too good to last – the inexpensive food (two or three times cheaper than in Basel), the calm, sleep-filled nights in an airy, high-ceilinged bedroom, the daily reading sessions and conversations with the ‘unexcellable’ Koselitz. For, after the rains had set in early June, the bracing sea breezes lost their freshness, the climate turned sultry, the temperature began to rise. It was time to find a cooler habitat for the torrid summer months.” (Cate, page 298)

After Venice, Fritz and Koselitz journeyed through Italy, enduring almost constant rainy conditions, which disturbed Fritz. Nietzsche wandered aimlessly in search of a place where he could get well, often blaming his problems on humidity and temperature and subtle changes in weather. He wanted bright, sunny days – either on a mountain top or at seaside. Yet, he also needed darkened spaces for his eyes, preferably a wooded region in which to take daily walks in the shade. His illness never went away while he stayed in Bohemia and he was unable to work, though he did take long walks on good days and made some notes. It was an unproductive and likely discouraging summer. By September he was home with mother again. For five weeks this time. Morgenrote remained unfinished.

While under Gast's assistance, before his stumbling return home to his mother, Fritz was a tremendously demanding burden for Gast. In a letter Gast recorded: “You have no idea what I endured…, how many a night I lay down and tried to sleep and when I thought about what had happened during the day, and saw that I had done nothing for myself and everything for other people, I was often seized with such rage that I threw myself into contortions and called down death and damnation on Nietzsche. I have hardly ever felt so bad as I did during this time…Then, when I had at last managed to get some sleep at four or five in the morning, Nietzsche would often come along at nine or ten and ask if I would play Chopin for him.” (Hollingdale, page 127)

Due to his inability to settle anywhere for long, constant illness and general apathy resulted in little progress on Morgenrote for a number of months. Work picked up again in the fall, when the summer humidity and rain had passed. Still, Fritz exhibited a somewhat neurotic compulsion about living quarters. At first he wanted to winter in Naples. Then he quickly changed his mind and moved to Genoa, “changing his lodgings four times in only a few days.” (The Good European, page 235) This was the activity of a very uncomfortable and unsettled human being. Still, when he finally settled Nietzsche remained in Genoa for six months.

Fritz had now been battling with his increasingly fragile and difficult health for about nine years. “If we seek the basic reason Nietzsche was perpetually ill from about 1872 onwards, we have it in the fact that he made no serious effort to follow medical advice; and if we ask ourselves why he did not, the answer, I think, is that he was convinced from the first that he was incurable and feared he would die before he had written all he wanted to write: the compulsive character of his work…probably has its roots in this fear.” (Hollingdale, p. 130)

This compulsion eventually won out over inactivity and Nietzsche began writing again in Genoa, often straining his eyes to the point of headache. The demanding Fritz, with Koselitz’s grumpy yet faithful assistance, completed Morgenrote by March 1881. He remained in Genoa until April when he began to travel again, very ill, aimlessly until he settled in Sils-Maria, where he stayed three months.


“The three midsummer months Nietzsche spent in the village of Sils-Maria were, in terms of health and weather, more tempestuous than calm. July by Engadine standards, was unusually hot, with successive thunderstorms, each of which laid him low with another nervous seizure. August was no better, with dramatic changes of temperature and, in the middle of the month, a wintry snowfall and such an onset of cold that in his small, unheated, pine-walled room Nietzsche suffered a chilblained finger and had to write to his mother and sister in Naumberg, begging them to send him a pair of gloves and thick woolen stockings.” (Cate, p. 311)

At Sils-Maria Fritz fell into another routine. It began with his obsession with how his diet affected his stomach. “It now included meat as well as macaroni for the midday meal – the standard supper fare for local farmers and shepherds. As ever an ‘early bird’, he got up at five o’clock in the morning and began the day by washing himself from head to foot with cold water from a porcelain jug and basin in his room. When not forced to remain in bed, he spent five or more hours walking through the dense pine forests. From 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. he sat in the dark to give his eyes a rest – as he had done at Genoa where, as he wrote his mother on 24 August, he was always back home ‘every evening without exception from six o’clock on; never theater, concerts, etc. You cannot imagine how thriftily, indeed how stingily I have to husband my intellectual powers and my time, so that such a suffering and imperfect being as myself can nonetheless bear ripe fruit…’ He could not write more than fifteen minutes at a time without having to lie down and rest his eyes. Forced to ration the time devoted to reading, he forewent his pleasure of reading music scores or works of fiction, restricting himself to books on scientific subjects.” (Cate, p. 312)

Despite the weather, Fritz felt very comfortable in Sils-Maria. “’I know of nothing more suited to my nature than this high piece of land,’ Nietzsche wrote (to Overbeck); and indeed in the high Alpine village of Sils-Maria he had found which came nearest in his later years to being permanent residence.”(Hollingdale, page 128) So, despite the weather, Fritz adored the space.

Morgenrote was published at the end of June, most of it had been conceived and dictated in Venice and Genoa. Meanwhile, Fritz began work on a “sequel” to Morgenrote just as he had written sequels to Volume One of HH. This sequel, however, would turn out to be a completely separate work. One in which he would first announce his most infamous proclamation that "God is dead." But, that was still in the future during Fritz’s summer of 1881.

His ideas and thoughts at the time of Morgenrote, often conceived on long walks on days of improved health, fueled a complete zest for life. Fritz wrote his mother that same summer: “’There could never have been a man to whom ‘depressed’ applied less. Those who divine more of my life’s task and its ceaseless demands think me, if not the happiest of men, at least the most courageous. I have weightier things to consider than my health, and therefore I am ready to bear that too.’” (Hollingdale, page 129)