Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Erotic Nietzsche

“When we see someone suffering, we like to use this opportunity to take possession of him; that is for example what those who would become his benefactors and those who have compassion for him do, and they lust for new possessions that is awakened in them ‘love’; and their delight is like that aroused by the prospects of a new conquest. Sexual love, however, is what most clearly reveals itself as a craving for new property: the lover wants unconditional and sole possession of the longed-for person; he wants a power over her soul as unconditional as his power over her body; he wants to be the only beloved, to live and to rule in the other soul as that which is supreme and most desirable….to the lover himself the rest of the world appears indifferent, pale, and worthless and that he is prepared to make any sacrifice, upset any order, subordinate any other interest; then one is indeed amazed that this wild greed and injustice of sexual love has been glorified and defied as it has in all ages – yes, that this love has furnished the concept of love as the opposite of egoism when it may in fact be the most candid expression of egoism. Those who were granted much possession and satiety in this area must occasionally have made some casual remark about ‘the raging demon’...but Eros always laughed at such blasphemers; they were always precisely his greatest darlings. Here and there on earth there is probably a kind of continuation of love in which this greedy desire of two people for each other gives way to a new desire and greed, a shared higher thirst for an ideal above them. But who knows such love? Who has experienced it? Its true name is friendship.” (from The Gay Science, Aphorism 14)

“There is something quite amazing and monstrous in the upbringing of upper-class women; indeed, maybe there is nothing more paradoxical. The whole world agrees that they should be brought up as ignorant as possible about matters erotic, and that one has to impart in their souls a deep shame in the face of such things and the most extreme impatience and flight at the merest suggestion of them. Really, in this matter alone the ‘honor’ of a woman in its entirety is at risk; what else would one not forgive them?...to catch love and shame in a contradiction and to have to experience all at once delight, surrender, duty, pity, terror at the unexpected proximity of god and beast, and who knows what else! There one has tied a psychic knot that may have no equal.” (from Aphorism 71)

Terms of “seduction”, “breeding”, “lust”, “evil drive”, phrases like “one cannot be too gentle towards women”, “compassion is the praised virtue of prostitutes”, and “…prostitution of the spirit…” permeate the first two books of The Gay Science. Fritz wrote of “sexual” relations and having “mistresses” sparingly in HH and mentions sex as a “benevolent arrangement” in Daybreak, “the one person by doing what pleases him gives pleasure to another person” (Young, page 310), but the word choices and attempts at expressing the nature of the erotic in The Gay Science are unlike anything Nietzsche had used up to this time. It begs the question, why did Nietzsche choose suddenly to express himself this way? Part of the reason, I think, is the intentional shock effect of being so provocative with his work.

But, this is an incomplete explanation. Nietzsche became more intimate in expressing himself in this work as it progressed and certainly the sexual component of The Gay Science passionately surpasses anything in earlier efforts. It is difficult to believe that he would mention the erotic in such a fashion with little or no experience with sexuality.

I do not wish to imply that eroticism is a major theme in Nietzsche’s work overall. It is not. However, this is not to say sex was not an important part of Fritz’s life. The evidence seems to indicate that it was. How could he write as he did in The Gay Science with no experience at all in the matter?

Indeed, according to Safranski, there is a rather fundamental sexual thread running through Nietzsche’s life going back to his early student days at Pforta. Safranski connects these days specifically with the choice of title for Book Four of The Gay Science. “The title also paid homage to the martyred Sanctus Januarius. In Naples, this saint is honored with many paintings and statues, which Nietzsche had first admired in 1876. This martyr, who is known in Naples as San Gennaro, was a man with striking feminine characteristics. He had a soft beauty and experienced periodic bleeding. Legend associated his martyr’s blood with menstrual blood. Considered both man and woman, he became the saint of androgyny.” (page 245)

“When Nietzsche asked his friend Gersdorff to read book 4, which was dictated to the androgynous martyr, he declared that his books revealed ‘so much about me, which a hundred letters of friendship would not be able to match. Read the Santus Januraius in particular with this in mind.’ Some interpreters have viewed this statement as an indirect confession of Nietzsche’s homo-erotic tendencies, and assert that it provides a key to his life and work. Some researchers have traced Nietzsche’s sexual secrets all the way back to his years in boarding school, citing the story of the decadent vagabond poet Ernst Ortlepp, who was famous and infamous around Naumberg. The students idolized Ortlepp, a shabbily clad genius who roved through the forests, early always inebriated, and on summer days recited and sang his poems under classroom windows. This unnerving man was notorious for his attacks on Christianity.

“According to a biographical reconstruction by H. J. Schmidt, Ortlepp may have been the first Dionysian seducer in Nietzsche’s life, engaging not only his imagination but also his sexuality. Nietzsche, who was both traumatized and exhilarated by this experience, as some surmise, never, in their estimation, got over this first molestation of Dionysus incarnate.

“If we are prepared to relate Nietzsche’s alleged sexual seduction (perhaps even rape) by Ortlepp and the homosexual inclinations that were awakened ( or intensified)…we would be reducing the immense range of life that inspired Nietzsche’s thought to a secret history of his sexuality and making it a privileged focal point of truth.” (pp. 246-247)

“It was none other than Richard Wagner who first offended and then ‘mortally’ wounded him with this sort of psychology of sexualist suspicion. In the early 1870’s Wagner gently counseled Nietzsche not to cultivate overly intimate friendships with men at the expense of women if he wanted to overcome his melancholy and dark moods. His mother and Malwida von Meysenbug went to great lengths to get him married off, and he did not always resent their interference. Sometimes he even sought help in finding a wife. Behind the scenes, though, Wagner often spread rumors and gossip…the rumor circulating that Nietzsche was an effeminate man and chronic masturbator…” (page 248)

Before his relationship with Wagner there was Fritz’s university student years. Fritz was a party boy in college. “One day, Nietzsche was alone in Cologne and, according to (Paul) Deussen, asked a porter to guide him to some interesting sights. The porter guided him to a brothel where he suddenly found himself surrounded by a half dozen scantily clad creatures who looked at him expectantly. For a moment he was speechless and paralyzed. The he caught sight of a piano as the single spiritual thing in the room and instinctively sat down at it to play a chord. This released him from paralysis and he fled the house in freedom.

“One may wonder if the visit really was accidental as told by Deussen. But there was no reason to doubt the events occurred as he described. Nietzsche may have gotten cold feet when confronted with the reality of a sexual encounter at that time. However, it seems clear from recent evidence that Nietzsche had had sexual liaisons and had acquired gonorrhea during his student days.” (Schain, pp. 12-13)

If not casually or frequently, Julian Young documents that Nietzsche, always obsessed with treatments and drugs that might give him freedom from his endlessly recurring illnesses, had sex upon medical advice. “The beginning of 1877 (Nietzsche was) examined by a Professor Schron at the university clinic in Naples. What he suggested by way of treatment is unknown, save for the fact that he recommended sexual release, which, apparently, Nietzsche achieved with several visits to Naples brothels.” (page 234)

We know little about Friedrich Nietzsche’s sexuality except he articulated it erotically on numerous occasions. When he received a letter in March 1882 from his good friend Paul Ree informing him of an extraordinary young Russian woman he’d just discovered and wanted Fritz to meet her, Fritz replied erotically: “Greet this young Russian from me if you think it does any good. I am greedy for her kind of soul. In the near future I am going to rape one.” (Peters, page 86)

Fritz had sex in brothels. According to Ree, he enjoyed “clandestine visits from a young Neapolitan peasant girl” during Fritz’s and Paul’s Sorrento sojourn. (Peters, page 70) Apparently, he masturbated frequently, at least in his younger days. Of course, it was cheaper than paying for a prostitute. Peasant girls might have been a compromise between affordability and necessity. Or Nietzsche could have had this gay sexuality that is cleverly hidden. Maybe he was bi-sexual.

We have no idea how often he had sex with women (or men but I do not think evidence supports the conclusion Fritz was homosexual). But, judging by his state of mind about sex at the time he wrote The Gay Science, he preferred a domination of the woman’s body. He believed higher class women were unfortunately less versed in sex before marriage. Perhaps that was true but how on earth would he know? He had never come close to marriage himself. He also seemed, however, to idealistically at least hold friendship above the erotic as a superior relationship between persons. Perhaps, in the end, that places sex properly within the context of Fritz’s life.

The freedom and openness we enjoy today with sex was almost nonexistent in Fritz’s sexually repressive cultural world. “Proper” men and women, unless appropriately acquainted and, in the case of young men and women, closely supervised, could rarely touch in public. Otherwise, certain distances must be observed. There existed a complex wall of decorum separating men and women, even privately. So, it is important that we understand that the erotic of Nietzsche’s time was in many ways more na├»ve than it is today. Sex was still sex, of course. But, what was considered erotic under these more restrictive circumstances was often incredibly subtle. The glance, the gesture, the brush, the motion without touching, in my opinion these were even more erotically charged then than they are today because these were not the foreplay but at the boundary of erotic expression itself. They were acts of boldness. Often, they were all couples had to work with until married or committed to marriage.

Passionate people still felt life inside this more innocent erotic charge. Erotic literature, sadomasochism, fetishes, homosexuality were all prevalent even within the tightly woven fabric of proper behavior. Sex could be an intense experience and it seems rather obvious from the evidence just presented that Nietzsche was as passionate about sex as he was almost every other aspect of his life.

He was a failure at genuine human intimacy, for which he was about to pay a huge price in his life. He did not understand women. All his attempts at intimacy with them bore rejection and heartbreak and, soon, anger. His intimacy with a half dozen male friends, however, remained for years, though chiefly through correspondences rather than visits later in his life. Distant friendships. Upon returning to Genoa from Messina, Fritz decided to take Paul up on his offer and make a trip to Rome. He traveled there in April 1882 and met this young Russian woman. The traveler was writing lots of poetry, feeling somewhat erotic, Dionysian, feeling that he had just started opening the truths of the universe, and pleased that he had just completed the rough draft of his next (and what he thought would be his last) great philosophic work. He was genuinely satisfied with virtually every aspect of his life, amor fati.

He was about to fall in love.