Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Whip Pic

Lou Salomé, Paul Rée, and Friedrich Nietzsche posed for this racy (by the standards of the day) photo in May 1882.

“After a trip to Basel to visit to his friends the Overbecks, Nietzsche returned and met with Lou on May 13 at Lucerne. At the Lowengarten, they spoke (at) a stone relief of a sleeping lion. According to Lou’s memoirs he proposed to her a second time. Again she tactfully declined but continued to beseech him to be part of the intellectual commune, what she called the “trinity.” She believed working together they could inspire one another to the greatest heights; to succumb to something as ephemeral as emotion would cause it to dissolve away. And Nietzsche was game for anything involving danger and play – the world’s most dangerous plaything: live dangerously! Build your cities under Vesuvius! Send you ships into uncharted seas!” (Vickers, page 42)

While Fritz visited the Overbecks, Lou got several stern talks from her mother and Paul regarding her “loose” behavior with Fritz. “Rée was particularly outspoken in his criticism. He warned Lou that her behavior had been indiscreet and that she was to blame if Nietzsche misunderstood her. Nietzsche had requested that she meet him in front of the lion’s statue in the Lucerne park. It was a beautiful May day. Spring had come to the Swiss mountains and the air was perfumed with the scent of flowers and blossoming trees.” (Peters, page 101)

Fritz immediately noticed a change in her. “Lou was friendly but detached. Nietzsche felt there was no time to lose. Solemnly he proposed marriage. Lou listened to him, and then with equal solemnity told him that she did not want to get married. She wanted to remain free but she wanted also to remain friends.” (Peters, page 101)

“Together they walked back to her hotel, where an anxious Rée was waiting for them. It was Nietzsche who suggested that, to celebrate their trinity, they have their picture taken together. Monsieur Bonnet was a man of impeccable bourgeois taste. His photographs…were in wide demand because they mirrored the spirit of the times, solemnity and boredom. Among the props in Bonnet’s studio was a small farm cart which came in handy for rural scenes. When Nietzsche saw it his eyes lit up. He demanded that it be placed in the center of the stage and told Lou to kneel in it. A rather awkward gesture, Bonnet thought, and not at all suitable for a young lady. But his protests went unheeded. Then Nietzsche asked him for a piece of rope which, he insisted, should be tied to his and Rée’s arms and held by Lou like a rein. Thus the two men were harnessed to the cart in which Lou knelt. Over Rée’s protests, Nietzsche claimed that no other pose could more fittingly represent their relationship.” (Peters, page 102)

“After the events in the Lowengarten and in Monsieur Bonnet’s studio, the pilgrimage to Wagner’s former home at Lake Lucerne came somewhat of an anti-climax. Rée excused himself. He had had enough for one day and refused to go. Once again Nietzsche and Lou were alone. But much had happened since Monte Sacro and both were in a somber mood. Lou was uneasy in Nietzsche’s presence and Nietzsche was burdened by his mixed feelings, love and hate, for Wagner.

“In a soft and subdued voice he told Lou the story of his friendship with Wagner, recalled the happy hours he had spent in this house, this garden and by this lake. As they sat by the lakeside, Nietzsche’s voice dropped to a whisper. With his walking stick he drew figures in the moist sand and when he looked up Lou noticed that he had tears in his eyes.” (Peters, page 103)

The tears had specific motivation in addition to reflecting Fritz’s general melancholia at this time. “From Basel Nietzsche had brought along a copy of Schopenhauer as Educator, which he now gave to Lou to read as a preliminary introduction to his philosophical ideas and aspirations. The maxim she had inscribed on the cover of her knick-knack box – ‘Strive to live quietly and to produce with your own hands’ (from St. Paul’s first Epistle to the Thessalonians) – was replaced by Geothe’s stirring exhortation, which, years before, Nietzsche, Gersdorff and Rohde had adopted as their own:

From half-measures weaned
And in the Whole, the Good, the Beautiful
Resolutely let us live.
“In exchange, Lou gave him a poem entitled ‘To Pain’ (spiritual as well as physical), which so perfectly echoed his own feelings on the subject that even two months later Nietzsche could not read it without tears coming to his eyes.” (Cate, page 333) This exchange of written works would in coming weeks motivate Fritz to sit down at the piano again and compose music for the first time in years, but it equally reveals the desire Lou had for Fritz to read her private poetry, thoughts, and feelings. They remained very intimate with one another at this time in this way.

That Fritz once closely associated himself in friendship with Wagner must have impressed the bright-minded Lou. Even though Lou probably had little appreciation for Wagner’s music she could keenly appreciate his considerable social force as an artist. After Lucerne, Fritz returned to the Overbecks while Lou agreed to visit Paul’s home and meet his mother during an extended stay. The plans were for the three to rejoin vaguely at some point. Fritz wanted to be alone with Lou again, this time for a period of weeks. But, for now he did nothing.

“The Overbecks noticed a change in Nietzsche when he returned from his brief excursion to Lucerne. His exuberance was gone. He was moody and looked tired. But he made no mention of any change in his plans and spoke of Lou enthusiastically as before. He told Mrs. Overbeck that Lou had expressed the wish to meet her and he asked her to talk to the girl about him ‘with complete frankness.’ (Peters, page 105)

“On or around May 25 Nietzsche wrote Lou Salomé in Zurich, giving her the Overbecks’ exact address in Basel. In order to be more independent, he explained that he ‘remained silent’ (i.e. had said nothing to his mother and sister about their ‘trinitarian’ scheme). ‘The nightingales have been singing all night long in front of my window. Rée,’ he went on, in the same charitable mood, ‘is in all matters a better friend than I am and can be; take careful note of the difference.’ But then, yielding to an irresistible temptation, he couldn’t help concluding: ‘When I am often all alone, I often, very often pronounce your name – to my greatest pleasure.’” (Cate, page 335)

Lou probably was curious about the Overbecks from what Fritz had shared with her about them. She was likely most intrigued by Mrs. Overbeck and how she lived what seemed to be a domesticated but strong-willed and contemplative life with a university professor. At any rate she most definitely took advantage of the opportunity to visit the Overbecks. “Franz Overbeck was so intrigued by this feminine phenomenon that he sent Nietzsche an eight-page report on his and his wife’s impressions. It is more than regrettable that this invaluable letter has disappeared. Nietzsche, who received it at Naumburg in early June and who had to keep its contents secret from both his mother and sister, wrote to Franz, shortly after recovering from another nervous attack, that it was the kind of letter one receives once in a lifetime, and that it was something he would never forget. He was happy to find that his ‘plan, which must shimmer very fantastically for uninitiated eyes’, had encountered such a profoundly human as well as friendly understanding from the Overbecks.” (Cate, page 337)

As weeks went by, Fritz confided to his sister about the young “pupil” Lou and asked Elizabeth to meet Lou at the Bayreuth festival, that being also the premiere of Wagner’s newest opera Parsifal. Fritz had fallen so far from Wagner that he simply could not go there himself. Fritz: “…arranged for Lou and his sister Elizabeth to attend the debut of Wagner’s Parsifal Bayreuth in July. Once in Hamberg, she wrote Nietzsche. She approved his idea, but perhaps in the interim in Warmbrunn, where they could be together and work as a team. Flirtatiously, she added that his book The Dawn ‘entertains me in bed better than visits, shopping and travel dust.’ It could only lead Nietzsche to wondering, which parts entertained her the most? Could it be his courageous affirmation of sexuality? In The Dawn he had reinstated the powers of Eros and Aphrodite, proclaiming, ‘In themselves sexual feelings, like those of pity and adoration, are such that one human being thereby gives pleasure to another through his delight; one doesn’t often encounter such beneficent arrangements in nature. And to slander it and to corrupt it through bad conscience! To associate the procreation of man with bad conscious!’

“Lou also wrote Nietzsche that he and Rée were ‘two prophets, turned towards the past and the future.’ Rée ‘discovers the verdict of the gods.’ She admires Nietzsche and the heroic thinker: ‘you say somewhere ‘If you disregard the happy life, only the heroic life is left.’ …We are good travelers,’ she adds cheerfully, ‘and will find the path even in the undergrowth.’” (Vickers, Page 44)

“He wanted Lou to meet his sister and hoped Elizabeth would prevail upon her to join him in the Thuringian resort of Tautenburg where he proposed to spend afew summer weeks together. Nietzsche was grateful to Malwida’s support and he wrote her that a firm friendship now united him with Lou ‘as firmly as anything of this sort can be arranged on earth. I have not made a better acquisition in a long time. I am truly grateful to you and Rée for having helped me to it. This year, which in many important respects means a new crisis in my life (‘epoch’ is the right word, an interval between two crises; one behind and one in front of me) has been made very beautiful, thanks to charm and the graciousness of this young, truly heroic soul. I hope to have in her a pupil and, if my life should not last much longer, and heir and disciple.’” (Peters, page 107)

Meanwhile, Lou “was having such a good time with the Rées and had become so fond of Paul, who did everything in his power to make her feel at home, that she hardly noticed how quickly the weeks went by. She was almost sorry now that she had promised to join Nietzsche in Tautenberg. Rée, too, was sorry. He could hardly bear the idea of her leaving him.” (Peters, page 110)

“Exactly what Lou Salomé thought of the Parsifal premiere we do not know. But since she was tone-deaf, she was almost certainly less impressed that the Wagnerophilic Elisabeth, who was excited and overwhelmed by the scenic and sonic spectacle that she wrote to her brother to say that ‘even a deaf man would have been enthused by the performance’.” (Cate, page 349)

“On July 28, the date chosen for the second Parsifal performance, Fritz wrote to his sister urging her and Lou to stay on, pointing out that ‘if one doesn’t come away from Bayreuth with a couple of high moments, there was no point going to B[ayreuth].’ He also urged Elisabeth not to leave before the 30th when Franz Overbeck and his wife would be reaching Bayreuth. Elisabeth was only too happy to heed this last piece of advice. At some point during the brief meeting she stunned Ida Overbeck by the vehemence of complaints against ‘Fraulein Salomé’ – a philosophical upstart who had not bothered to read Fritz’s books and who ought to be sent back to school.

“Elisabeth’s growing irritation was not simply due to jealousy aroused by Lou Salomé’s ‘astounding dialectical virtuosity’ and a genuine talent for ‘hair-splitting sophistry’ (as Malwida’s friend, Resa von Schirnhofer, later described it); she was outraged to discover that Lou, with a tactless mixture of adolescent conceit and brazen effrontery, had been showing Malwida’s friends the ‘amusing’ Lucerne photograph of herself, seated in the little cart by her two harnessed ‘workhorses’, who were ready to go wherever it might please her to lead them.’” (Cate, page 350)

Elizabeth, the picture of the genteel middle-class respectability of the day, was shocked and angered at Lou’s behavior at Bayreuth. Elizabeth “…found herself in the uncomfortable role of envious witness to Lou Salomé’s social status in the salons and at the receptions. The conversations Elisabeth overheard about her renegade brother were unkind of him, and she thought this young Russian woman ought to have unfailingly defended her brother. Instead, Salomé turned against him and cast him aspersions with the others. This is how Elizabeth saw the situation, or at least that is how she reported it later to her brother. During the trip to Tautenburg, Elizabeth Nietzsche and Lou Salomé engaged in nasty altercations. From then on, Nietzsche’s sister became Salomé’s vindictive antagonist.” (Safranski, page 253)

Though Elizabeth would patch things up with Lou for the sake of appearances, the journey from Bayreuth to Tautenburg, where Fritz was waiting for his precise extended time alone with Lou, remained uneasy, as did every interaction between the two opposite women afterwards. Elizabeth abhorred Lou and could not understand why her reputable if reclusive brother wanted to have anything to do with the unconventional, immature upstart Lou. The tension would ultimately affect even Fritz’s view of Lou though certainly Elizabeth herself did not contribute solely to what was about to occur.