Thursday, September 30, 2010

Giddy Days

Nietzsche began taking notes for Morgenrote II during that first summer at Sils-Maria. These notes often reflect the inspired happiness of a free spirit. The intimate gaiety welling up in him became the basis for the title of his next great philosophic work, after he had given up on the idea of a sequel to Daybreak. The foundation for his happiness, however, lies in a singular idea that came to him one day while hiking in August 1881. Weather permitting, Fritz hiked several hours a day in the clean mountain air.

What came to Fritz as he walked by a boulder along Lake Silvaplana was the idea and experience of “the eternal return of the same.” A couple of scattered aphorisms touch on the basics of this concept in The Gay Science and I will discuss it in a later post. For now, he chose to be mysterious with his friends about his revolutionary philosophical idea. But, it filled him with extraordinary motivation and joy.

In the world of Nietzsche scholarship there is disagreement about exactly what he meant by this rather startling idea. As he wrote to Peter Gast: “Thoughts have climbed above my horizon of a kind I have never before seen – I cannot speak of them…the intensity of my feelings make me shiver and laugh…walking yesterday I…wept not sentimental tears but tears of jubilation: and as I wept I sang and talked nonsense, filled with a new vision that I have had in advance of other human beings.” (Young, page 318)

He left Sils-Maria and returned to Genoa where he began converting his hiking notes into a broader, structured text. He evidently worked alone at a rather brisk pace between brief spells of illness. Genoa was very pleasant at the beginning of 1882. Fritz glowed. “A miserable Christmas, marred by a major paroxysmic fit, probably due to excessive inspiration, was followed by an extraordinary spell of fine weather – no wind, no clouds, no rain! – which made the month of January 1882 the most wonderful Fritz had ever enjoyed. One Genoese old-timer assured him that he had never seen anything like it in more than three-score years. It was so unseasonally mild that Nietzsche could sit out of doors in the morning without feeling at all cold, and by the end of the month the peach-trees were bursting prematurely into blossom – to the consternation of fruit-growers who knew that a touch of frost could wipe out their annual crop. Bouyed by the splendid weather, Nietzsche by the middle of the month had virtually completed the third of the planned five chapters of Morgenrote II. On 28 January he sent the manuscript – Books VI to VIII – to Koselitz in Venice.” (Cate, page 314)

During this time, Fritz attended performances of the opera Carmen, which he adored. In Georges Bizet, Fritz felt he had at last found music that surpassed the supposed decadence that Wagner ended up with in his opera Parsifal. Fritz wrote that Carmen was “’…witty, strong, here and there profoundly moving. An authentic French talent for comic opera, not at all disoriented by Wagner, a true pupil of Hector Berlioz. I had not thought something like this was possible!’ The following month (December 1881) he attended another performance and simultaneously heard that the composer he had only just discovered was, in fact, dead. (Bizet died in 1875 at the age of thirty-six, shortly before the first performance of Carmen.) He was devastated.” (Young, page 321) Even though he had not attempted any new personal compositions since his Tribschen days, classical music remained a cornerstone of Fritz’s intimate life.

Writing was difficult for Fritz. His eyes some days would not allow it at all. When his eyesight was functional, he would write furiously, his eyes very close to the page, abusing his momentary ability to see well. His handwriting was notoriously difficult to decipher. “On 4 February Paul Ree reached Genoa, bringing with him a Danish typewriter, which had been slightly damaged in its loosely assembled wooden casing during a bumpy trip on successive trains. A Genoese mechanic was summoned to repair the damage. Writing the next day to Fritz’s sister Elisabeth in Naumburg, Ree said that never since their first meeting in Basel in 1872 had he seen her brother looking so well and in such high spirits. He was living in a cosy room which, though situated in the heart of the city, was wonderfully quiet since it overlooked a monastery past which no carriages were allowed to pass. The afternoon of Ree’s arrival in Genoa Nietzsche took him down to the shore, where they stretched out – like ‘two sea-urchins’ – on the sun-warmed sand.” (Cate, page 315)

Ree’s visit lasted five weeks and his friendship was welcomed by Fritz. The two went on holiday together. “Towards the end of Ree’s stay, Nietzsche took him up Genoa’s curving coast as far as Monte Carlo, in whose famous casino, as Fritz reported to his mother and sister on 4 March, he did not play while ‘Ree at least did not lose. It is as regards position, natural beauty, art, and human beings, the paradise of hell…This entire coast is unbelievably expensive, as though money has no value,’ added the rather impecunious Fritz. His claim that Ree had lost no money at the roulette-wheel was a glib falsehood…For by the time he left Genoa, Paul Ree was so ‘strapped’ that he had to borrow some money from Nietzsche to pay for the train fare to Rome.” (Cate, page 316)

“On a more serious level, Ree’s visit clearly turned Nietzsche’s mind to scientific matters, since March he wrote Koselitz of his admiration for Copernicus and Roger Boscovich, ‘the two greatest opponents of how things look to the untutored eye’. Boscovich, he continues, has ‘thought atomic theory through to its ultimate conclusion’, which is that ‘nothing exists but force’ – gravity, electromagnetism, and so on.” (Young, page 323) Fritz was nurturing the foundation for his later philosophy concerning Power.

Fritz fumbled with the typewriter. “’This machine,’ as he typed to Franz Overbeck, ‘is as delicate as a small dog and causes a lot of trouble – and some amusement. What my friends must invent for me is a Vorlese-Maschine’ [a reading-out-loud-machine] ‘otherwise I am bound to fall behind and will no longer be able to provide myself sufficiently with intellectual nourishment. Or rather: I need to have a young person nearby, who is sufficiently intelligent and well educated to be able to work with me. Even a two-year marriage would serve this purpose – in which case of course a couple of other requirements would have to be taken into account.’” (Cate, page 316)

With the initial draft for his next work largely completed Fritz made a spontaneous, inexplicable decision to visit Sicily. For a brief time no one knew his whereabouts. “In Genoa he had experienced a mood of intense exaltation. Like Columbus he felt he had sighted a new world. There he was in Genoa…possessed of a secret that would shake the earth. There he was, il santo tedesco, about to depart to the end of the world, to that ‘rim of the earth’ where, according to Homer, happiness dwells. He had felt like dancing in the streets…He laughed and cried and grimaced and felt like shouting from all the rooftops who he was…” Feeling full of himself Fritz decided to embark, alone, on a mini-voyage of discovery. It is interesting that he traveled so much even though it seemed every journey brought a new bout with illness. “It was a terrible journey; the new Columbus was seasick most of the time. When he finally reached Messina on the first of April, he was more dead than alive and had to be carried ashore on a stretcher.” (Peters, page 88)

He spent the first three weeks of April 1882 there. “We know little about Nietzsche’s voyage from Genoa to Messina – except that it was made on a brig or schooner bound for Sicily, of which he was the only passenger….He felt a Dionysian need to free himself from the mental stranglehold of critical cognition and to give vent to his ‘creative’ genius, which – now that he had abandoned musical compositions – expressed itself spontaneously in verse….(Fritz) wrote his mother and sister on 1 April, the marine voyage unleashed a nervous fit that ‘fully resembled sea-sickness: when I came to, I found myself in a pretty bed by a quiet cathedral square; in front of my window a pair of palm-trees…I must, after the bad experiences of the last few years, make an attempt to live by the sea also in the summer.’” (Cate, pp 320-321)

Fritz was obviously torn between the mountains and the sea. Nevertheless, his “Dionysian need” found new expression in his brief time at Messina. “While in Messina, Nietzsche completed a set of eight poems, Idylls from Messina, which he published in Schmeitzner’s new journal, the Internationale Monatschrift, in May, 1882.” (Young, page 325)

Fritz wasn’t just writing poetry. “It was here that he completed most of the fourth part of Morgenrote II, which he finally decided to turn into a separate work, entitled Die frohliche Wissenschaft – literally ‘the joyous science’, or ‘joyous knowledge’ in the older, broader meaning of the German word, and for which he himself later chose the sprightly Provencal title of la gaya scienza.” (Cate, page 321)

One particular poem is revealing and strangely foreboding given what was to happen next in Fritz’s personal life. He later included it in The Gay Science. It was entitled "Song of a Theocritical Goatheard", the rather esoteric heading was a play on words: “The Greek poet Theocritus (third century BC) is considered the father of pastoral poetry. A ‘theocritical goatheard, using word play, is thus both pastoral and critical of God (theo)'." (note, the Cambridge University Press translation, page 254)

Fritz wasn’t the best of poets but, for reasons of future postings, I want to include this one. It is a rather mediocre, but highly romantic, effort.

I lie here, stomach aching,
With bed bugs in my pants.
Close by, the noise they’re making!
I hear it, how they dance…

She was supposed to slip away
And join me as her lover.
I wait here like a stray –
There is no sign of her.

She promised she would come,
how would she be untrue?
Does she chase everyone
Like my old goats do?

That silken dress, pray tell!
Proud girl, have you been good?
Does more than one buck dwell
In this little wood?

Lethally love makes us wait,
It burns, it hardens!
As hot night germinate
Toadstools in gardens.

Love eats away at me
Like seven deadly sins –
I’ll never eat again.
Farewell, dear onions!

The moon sets in the sea
And stars fade from the sky.
Grey dawn comes ‘round for me –
I just want to die.