Thursday, June 30, 2011

Rendezvous at Saint Peter's

“While they waited for Nietzsche’s arrival, Rée and Lou continued their joint exploration of the sites of Rome. They spent a good deal of time at Saint Peter’s. Rée had discovered a quiet corner in one of the side chapels where he could work undisturbed on his new book in which he wanted to prove the nonexistence of God. Lou was highly amused at his choice of a study and often accompanied him there to argue her point of view.” (Peters, page 92)

Here is an example of how Nietzsche scholars disagree on a multitude of small details depending upon the different perspectives found in their research of the primary sources, letters, diaries and such. Cate tells the exact situation slightly differently but all the main facts are the same. His details reveal some intimate things about Fritz and Paul and Lou. “The momentous excursion to St. Peter’s had been carefully staged by Paul Rée, who like an impatient alchemist had been waiting for weeks to see what kind of chemical reaction would take place when the softly smiling but inwardly incandescent Lou met the deceptively reserved iconoclast. Seated on a prayer-stool, Paul Rée pretended to be busy taking notes and recording his impressions of the huge basilica with what Lou Salomé later facetiously described as a combination of ‘fervour and piety’. In the prenumbral light of the great baroque interior the short-sighted Nietzsche had trouble making out the features of the young girl who stood waiting for him, with her auburn hair primly parted over the middle of her head, the deep-seated blue eyes at once inquisitive and fearful, and the equivocal smile that flitted around her often tight-pressed lips, in an attitude of hesitant defiance. To his sharper ear there was something a bit rasping and not particularly appealing about her voice when, finally, she opened her mouth to speak.” (Cate, page 327)

“One day when they were thus occupied, Nietzsche suddenly appeared. Malwida had told him where to find them. He went straight up to Lou, held out his hand and said with a deep bow: ‘From which stars have we been brought together here?’ Lou, although taken aback by this salutation from the medium-sized, inconspicuously dressed stranger, recovered her wits quickly and said that she had come from Zurich. They both laughed.” (Peters, page 92)

“Her first impression, she later wrote, was that of someone who, ‘arriving from the desert and the mountains, wearing a frockcoat of everyday people’, but whose studied reserve was a mask donned to conceal his inner thoughts. ‘For the superficial observer there was nothing particularly striking about him; this man of medium height, in his extremely simple but also carefully worn clothes, with a tranquil expression on his face and brown hair pushed back plainly, could have gone unperceived. The fine, extremely expressive lines around the mouth were almost hidden by a big, down-combed moustache; he had a soft laugh, a noiseless way of speaking, and a cautious, thoughtful way of walking, which caused a slight stoop in the shoulders…’ She was struck by Nietzsche’s small, ‘delicately modeled ears, of which he said that they were “true ears for hearing the unheard”. There are men who to an unavoidable degree exhibit intelligence, no matter how much they twist and turn and hold up their hands before their revealing eyes (as though the hand was no less of a betrayer).’ This was true of Nietzsche’s ‘incomparably beautiful and finely wrought hands in which he himself believed betrayed his intelligence. His eyes too betrayed him. Although half-blind, they had none of the searching, blinking quality which make so many short-sighted persons look unconsciously intrusive…His defective eyesight lent his features a very special kind of magic, for instead of reflecting changing impressions from outside, all they rendered was what was going on deep within him.’” (Cate, pp. 327 – 328)

Lou was fascinated by Fritz’s ideas and manner of self. She boldly invited him to join Paul and herself in her planned idealistic intellectual relationship. Fritz, admiring Lou as an “energetic, unbelievably clever being” (Cate, page 329), and given his state of mind as outlined in previous posts, naturally adored her obvious interest in him. He moved inexpertly and abruptly, asking Lou if she would marry him under the pretense that the marriage would make her idea of an intellectual ménage à trois respectable. It is difficult to say whether or not Fritz’s offer at this time was motivated out of love. His feelings for her might not have developed until several days later. Regardless, Fritz’s proposal came to Lou indirectly through instructions given to, of all people, Paul – who had been in love with Lou for several weeks.

Paul thought the whole thing humorously absurd but performed his duty. “As for Nietzsche’s reasons, they made Lou laugh. So he wanted to marry her on appearances? How noble of him and how bourgeois! She had heard that he prided himself on being a free spirit. Well, there nothing free about this proposal. It sounded all too human to her. Her immediate impulse was to tell Nietzsche to his face what she thought of it. But Rée counseled caution. There was no need to offend Nietzsche.” (Peters, page 93) Obviously, Paul did not perceive Fritz as a true rival for Lou, at this point. Fritz’s respectable title of “Professor” was far too valuable as an ingredient to any hope of making Lou’s intellectual fantasy work and, thus, keeping Paul and Lou together.

Lou sat Fritz down gently with a refusal based upon his inability to support a wife and upon Lou’s great desire to continue her studies among two gentlemen as friends. The proposal was set aside as quickly as it had materialized. Lou soon lost herself in daily talks on philosophy and religion with Fritz, Paul most likely listening and punctuating things with his sense of humor and great knowledge of various schools of philosophical thought. The intellectual atmosphere of the threesome was magical to Lou. Fritz and Paul enjoyed how the three got along and how Lou stood her ground to them with her God-influenced system of rationality and belief. She got dizzy in these heights of mind. It was her favored form of ecstasy, much to the fundamental frustration of Fritz and Paul.

“Nietzsche was in no mood to give Lou up that easily. Outwardly he agreed to their joint study plan, but inwardly he was considering ways and means of getting Lou away from Rée. He felt, and with good reason, that Rée’s presence prevented him from establishing a more intimate relationship with Lou. He wanted to spend a few weeks alone with her. But, steeped as he was in the middle-class traditions of his Naumberg upbringing, he knew that this was only possible with a chaperon. He thought at once of his sister.” (Peters, page 95)

Fritz introduced Lou to Elisabeth in a lengthy letter. He lied to his sister about Lou’s age. She was 21 but Fritz wanted Elisabeth to think she was 24, closer to his own age of 38. Otherwise, he praised Lou’s mind and manner of being. “(Fritz’s letter) was a masterpiece of innuendo and studied indifference. And it says as much about Nietzsche’s relationship with his sister as it does about Lou. He clearly wrote it for two reasons: to tell Elizabeth about Lou and to disarm any suspicions she might have concerning the sudden appearance of this young Russian. But if Nietzsche thought he deceived Elizabeth about Lou he was mistaken. She knew him far too well not to see through his double-talk. Right from the start Elizabeth sensed a rival in Lou….If there was to be another woman in her brother’s life she wanted to have a say in the matter….Meanwhile, far south under the blue sky of a Roman spring, Lou and her two suitors made plans for the future. They would spend the winter in Paris together, or in Vienna, attending lectures and concerts and enjoying each other’s company.” (Peters, page 95)

Lou was truly captivated by Fritz. “He seemed like a prophet who came out of the mountains, she thought, wearing the mask of civilization. Discovering what lay beneath the mask intrigued Lou.” (Vickers, page 39) “Lou was immediately captivated by Nietzsche’s divination of a heroic, manly age. She was seduced into an intellectual ecstasy by his brilliant and daring mind, just as she had swooned before Gillot as a great man of knowledge: ecce homo. Here was a man to idealize. Here was a man who would be part of her destiny.” (Vickers, page 40)

Lou wanted to explore and relate to Fritz’s commitment to vita completiva, his reserved but playful manner, his subtle and sophisticated sense of humor, his ability to challenge her own opinions and help sharpen them. Fritz was more of a debater than Paul, who had expansive knowledge as well, but was quieter, preferring the pen to the tongue for philosophy. Fritz was ready to unleash all of himself upon someone intellectually. He wanted to do it with Lou, but without interference from Paul. So, this became the behavioral pattern that lasted, irregularly, throughout the summer and autumn of 1882.

“Both Paul Rée and Lou Salomé were afraid that her impatient mother might whisk her away from Rome before the ‘Herr Professor Nietzsche’ – the title alone was a guarantee of respectability – had a chance to ‘present his respects’ to Madame Salomé. To ward off this calamity, Rée was asked by the ‘high-commanding Fraulein Lou’ to intercede with her mother and to suggest that they all meet up again near Milan. The plot to move the stage of future meetings from Rome to the Italian lakes seems to have been hatched by Lou with astonishing determination and celerity.” (Cate, page 329)

As strong as the attraction toward Lou was in mind and body, Fritz never subordinated any of that to his own profound thinking at the time. “Nietzsche could well imagine the advantages of a tightly knit work commune; since the time of his Surlej inspiration, he had been determined to substantiate his doctrine of eternal recurrence with a thorough study of the natural sciences.” (Safranski, page 251)

Fritz wrote to Lou regarding the yet-to-be-published The Gay Science: “This book marks the conclusion of that series of work which begins with Human, All Too Human: together they are meant to erect ‘a new image and ideal of a free spirit’. (Kaufmann, page 52) Fritz was turning away from writing for now and turning toward furthering his studies, chiefly of the physical sciences. He saw his life as amor fati in discovering eternal recurrence.

While Lou had an effect on Fritz’s erotic nature to some degree, what she desired from Fritz was being tested and entertained by the brilliant mind of a free spirit. Fritz was just perfect for her future intellectual ménage à trois. Likewise, Lou was a perfect fit for what Fritz. She was the “young person” he wanted to tutor, mentor and pass along his (now complete, so he thought) philosophical heritage. And she was sensually electric as well, taking youthful delight in the pushing of boundaries in all aspects of life but firmly unwilling to act in any way so as to subordinate herself in any way.

Lou was unquestionably sold on the Fritz-Paul combination within the bounds of her agenda. “She made up her mind to spend a year in the company of Rée and Nietzsche and the two philosophers were enthusiastically in favor of the plan, each for his own reasons. While Nietzsche had tried to enlist the support of his sister, Rée was not standing idly by. He wrote his mother and arranged a meeting between her and Madame von Salomé in Switzerland. Lou’s future was to be settled between two ladies. Rée hoped that his mother would become Lou’s chaperon and Madame von Salomé could return to Russia without her daughter.

“This is how matters stood when Lou and her mother left Rome. They agreed that Rée and Nietzsche should leave a day later and join them in Milan and then all four would travel to Switzerland together. They met as arranged, but upon Nietzsche’s suggestion they decided to make an excursion to Lake Orta, one of the smallest but most beautiful of the Upper Italian lakes.” (Peters, page 97)

But, this timetable was delayed by Fritz’s ever-recurring illness. While he was comparatively healthy during this period, he nevertheless still suffered brief, acute attacks. Also, while Peters claims the side trip was Fritz’s idea, Cate says it was Lou’s. Perhaps reflecting the similarity of mind they shared. “Because of the delay caused by Nietzsche’s latest nervous seizure he and Paul Rée were preceded rather than followed to Milan by Louise Salomé and her headstrong daughter. The rendezvous took place, more or less exactly as Lou had hoped and planned, at Orta, a town situated on a small lake of that name, narrowly separated by a mountain range from the southern extremity of Lake Maggiore.” (Cate, page 330)