Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Sociable Fritz: Part Two

Note: You can read Part One of this aspect of Nietzsche's life here.

During his mature and late philosophical years (from 1886) Nietzsche became increasingly isolated. But, he did not become a complete hermit until Turin in 1888-89. The one-time college party boy, crusading professor, and mover and shaker in pre-Bayreuth Wagnerian society, still entertained visitors. Though it is clear that he was, by now, a very lonely person.

After a concentrated social life while in Leipzig during 1882, the years following never found him at that level of socialization again. While he could attend such public events as bull fights and opera performances, it was usually alone or with only a couple friends. His interaction with human beings was reduced to 2, 3, or 4 people at a time along with a multitude of letters to still intimate friends like Elizabeth, Overbeck, Milwada von Meysenbug, his mother, among others. Most of what follows are impressions from those who knew him...

Fritz met many visitors during his summers at Sils-Maria, most of them were women. Helen Zimmern remembered him in 1884: "Afterwards he always went for a walk with me along Lake Silvaplana, to a boulder which protruded into this lake, a boulder which he loved very much. He then often told me of what he had written in the morning. I understood very little of it; but I felt that it was an alleviation for him to be able to express himself to a human being. The man seemed so lonely, so terribly lonely! If, which happened seldom enough, I made any objection, then he used to answer: 'Yes indeed, but as Zarathustra says' - and then came a passage from his main work, the greatest part of which he had already written.

"Nietzsche was reserved and almost awkwardly shy, when he came together with people with whom he had nothing in common. But once the ice was broken, then one immediately became aware of being in the presence of a man who was completely conscious of his value - who was thoroughly conscious of his merits. Once he even told me that someday professorships would be established dedicated exclusively to his philosophy, its explanation, and its dissemination." (page 167)

But there were several male admirers who typically had read him more closely. Paul Lanzky was a very early supporter: "What therefore first struck me about Nietzsche was his humanness, his amiability, I would almost say his spirituality. The thinker who seemed to be conjuring up a new century of apocalyptic pronouncements, and proclaimed in his teaching to be interested only in strong-willed people and unusual life-tasks, seemed in personal association to be just a harmless scholar who was extremely glad to personally meet his true disciple and friend who had been the first to accord him the title of master long ago. Only when the joy of meeting had subsided and the security of a first discreet discussion had been overcome, when we had looked each other in the eye, and our words had penetrated through the ear into the innermost depths of our soul, did the 'former professor, now a wandering fugitive' make way for Zarathustra, and his voice became more alive, louder, shriller, his brown eyes flashed, the folded umbrella was swung through the air like a sword, and the meaning of his discourse could become harder than the coldest of his written thoughts." (page 178)

Adolf Ruthardt recalled Fritz in 1885, reminding us of the importance of music in his life: "Nietzsche's external appearance made an extremely agreeable impression on me. Above middle height, slender, well-formed, with erect but not stiff stance, his gestures harmonious, calm and sparing; the almost black hair, the thick Vercingetorix mustache, his light-colored, but distinguished-looking suit of the best cut and fit, allowed him so little to resemble the type of a German scholar that he called to mind rather a Southern French nobleman or an Italian or Spanish higher officer in civilian clothes. Deep seriousness, but by no means the somber, angular, demonic expression that has been attributed to him in pictures and busts, spoke out of his noble features, with a healthy tan from going out a great deal in the open air and sun, and out of his large dark eyes." (page 183)

Ruthardt continues: "On the evening in question I had just begun with the Prelude to Bach's organ Fugue in A Minor, transposed by Liszt, when completely against my expectation Nietzsche appeared after all and listened attentively. I also played Chopin's Little Nocturne in F-Sharp Major and finally Schumann's Kreisleriana. Between the music pieces, interesting conversations developed, in which I listened avidly to recollections of Chopin and admired Nietzsche's pertinent remarks. About the Kreisleriana, however, he remained completely silent..." (page 184)

Marie von Bradke mentions a musical memory of Fritz as well: "Once when I was listening to Grieg's 'Du mein Gedanke,' which had just become known in Germany, the door was opened very shortly and Nietzsche joined us without a word. To the song he added commentary on the new harmonization. After that he managed to arrange to join us at those times devoted to music. And he added to them many a good word which my soul sought to process on my lonesome afternoon walks.

"Weeks passed without my even learned his name. It did not mean anything to me.his writings were still unknown to the German public. Only a small clientele read and, for the most part, rejected them. It was not through his name that I became aware of his greatness.

"I often watched him as he directed his quick steps to the peninsula mornings before six o'clock, as he did every day, with his yellow umbrella open to protect his sick eyes. The man walking there, I note clearly, had an artist's eyes and bore high, lonesome, unique thoughts into his experience of nature's beauty." (189-190)

Julian Young offers these intimate insights in his biography: "He decided to eat lunch half an hour before the rush and, abandoning the set menu, concocted a comprehensive regimen: every day for lunch, beefsteak with spinach, followed by a large omelette with apple jam; in the evenings, a few slices of ham with two egg yokes and two bad rolls. For the mornings, he decided to replace his five a.m. Cup of tea with unsweetened coca (van Houten's Dutch coca was his preferred brand, though later he decided to experiment with the Swiss Sprugli). Then, after an hour's further sleep, he rose, dressed, had a cup of tea, and began work. Unsurprisingly, this appalling, fruit-less and almost vegetable-less diet made no visible improvement to his health. And then he made it even worse by giving up the spinach at lunchtime and replacing steak with ham, following the now (unsurprisingly) deceased Dr. Wiel's 'ham cure' for diseases of the stomach.

"Throughout August, Nietzsche enjoyed the regular company of (now Dr.) Meta Von Salis, who arrived with her friend Hedwig Kym, with whom she now shared a house. Meta recalls that Nietzsche made the two-minute walk from his lodgings to hers almost every morning and sometimes in the afternoons too. His non-appearance meant that he was ill that day. If it was not too hot they went for a walk, otherwise remaining in 'intimate conversation' in her room. Mostly, Nietzsche was very cheerful and given to harmless jokes - as was his wont with those women (Elizabeth in earlier times) to whom he stood in a 'brotherly' relation. The women taught him to row and he enjoyed the slight shiver of danger when there was a wind. To Hedwig's expression of guilt after a trip during which she had done none of the rowing, he replied that he would remember her always as 'welcome ballast'." (Page 456)

"A final meeting in early September was with his old school friend Paul Deussen. Nietzsche had received a complimentary copy of Deussen's new book, a extensive translation of and commentary on the Sutras of the Vedanta. Far from patronizing Deussen as he had usually done in the past, Nietzsche was impressed by his gaining, in Berlin, a chair of philosophy, the first Schopenhauerian to do so. And he was tremendously impressed by Deussen's - indeed major - book. 'Subtle and refined,' he wrote, it made Deussen the foremost orientalist in Europe. Deussen visited from September 2 to 4, together with his wife, Marie, Jewish and half his age, en route to Greece. Deussen recalls that:

"' was with a beating heart that I met my friend for the first time after fourteen years of separation and, greatly moved, embraced him. But how changed he had become during this period. No longer the proud bearing, the elastic steps, the fluent talk of the past. Only slowly, and leaning somewhat to one side, he seemed to drag himself along. And his speech was often labored and hesitant...The next morning he led me into his apartment or, as he called it, his 'cave'. It was a simple room in a peasant house, three minutes from the main road...To the one side stood books, mostly well-known to me from earlier times. Next to the, was a rustic table with coffee cups, egg-shells, manuscripts, toilet articles, all in colorful confusion, then a boot-jack with a boot on it, and finally the unmade bed. Everything pointed to slack service and an indulgent gentleman. I would never see him again in his right mind.'" (pp. 456-457)

"Shortly before Christmas, Nietzsche had attended his fourth performance of Carmen in the Nice Opera's newly opened Italian theater. Once again it was a 'true event - I learnt and understood more in these four hours than in the previous four weeks', he wrote, sounding his often-repeated theme that music, or at least musical mood, emotion, gives birth to thought. Reflecting on the same experience a month later, he wrote Koselitz: 'Music now gives me sensations as never before. If frees me from myself, it sobers me up from myself, as though I survey the scene from a great distance, overwhelmed. It strengthens me...and every time, after an evening of music, I am full of resolute insights and thoughts the following morning. Life without music is simply a mistake, exhausting, an exile.'" (pp. 458 - 459)

Music remained important to Fritz, both in its large public opera setting and in private salon type presentation. His intimacy with others was shrinking, however. He preferred a few chosen friends and associates and certainly not very many at once. Still, everyone who spent time with him was impressed with his intellect, his ability to converse on a range of topics, including the mundane, his strong and complex appreciation for music, his enjoyment of humor, laughter, and his mild manner. Nietzsche was an interesting, entertaining, and pleasant man. But, he was withdrawing into his "cave", literally into his work.

After Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Nietzsche concentrated upon positioning himself for what he foresaw as a grand visionary work at some point in the future of his life. But, he would never write that work; only scattered hints of the larger system of thought can be found in his extensive notebooks. Instead, his remaining books elaborated upon the building blocks of his philosophy. Beyond Good and Evil was, in my opinion, his greatest work. Following it he wrote new introductions to all his past works and had them republished in small numbers.  On the Genealogy of Morals was his next great work, published in 1887. This blog will now examine all these works in sequence, including the new Part Five of The Gay Science written during this fertile time.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

1885-86: "Getting a Grip on My Life's Work"

The 1885-1886 time period was one of fundamental becoming for Nietzsche. His sister, to whom he was still close despite the strain on their relationship in recent years, would marry a prominent anti-Semite and attempt to form a colony in Paraguay. Fritz would sue his publisher and obtain the sole rights to all his published books along with, relatively, substantial cash. He would finally finish Zarathustra and move on to compose what I consider to be his finest philosophic work, Beyond Good and Evil. He was entering a new phase of his life. Nietzsche's latest work can be considered in conjunction with his next, On the Genealogy of Morals, as a distinctive segment of his intellectual life.

"As we have seen, by the mid-1880's Nietzsche had developed a regular routine: Sils-Maria in the summer, the Italian or French Riviera in the winter, with the transitional months of the spring or the fall still a problem. To
Malwida von Meysenbug, on December 13, 1886, he wrote from his Pension de Geneve on the petite rue St. Etienne in Nice: 'Nice and the Engadine: this old horse will never be able to escape from that circle dance'. Nice became Nietzsche's winter 'residence' for the years 1883-84 to 1887-88; only in the final weeks of his active working life did this 'old horse' decide to abandon it for Turin. He composed a birthday letter in Nice to his mother in Naumburg on January 29, 1885, telling her about his hopes to settle permanently in Nice, hopes that were now bound up with plans for a philosophical magnum opus:

"'I now understand that in every respect the past is past, that I now have to create the definitive conditions for my work over at least the next ten years; I shall not act in haste, for now it is a question of getting a grip on my life's work, and doing so with the most perfect equanimity. An environment that suits me, I mean, suits my work!'" (
The Good European, pp. 189-190)

"Elisabeth meanwhile had been bombarding him with gushing letters, rapturously describing her deep love for Bernhard Förster. The wedding of the two rabid Wagnerians was due to take place in Naumburg on 22 May - the late composer's birthday. How wonderful it would be if Fritz could be there too, to act as 'best man'! This of course was wishful thinking, no force in the world could have moved Nietzsche to bestow a public seal of approval, above all in Naumburg, on his sister's marriage to a man he continued to regard with misgivings as an antisemitic 'agitator'. Equally fanciful was Elisabeth's reiterated plea that Fritz at last get married. What imprudence it was to imagine that a 'man of his rank' could find someone capable of loving him, for that meant knowing who he really was: he who, after belatedly discovering what Man really is, had to his great regret come despise Richard Wagner and Arthur Schopenhauer and now regarded the founder of Christianity as 'superficial'." (
Cate, pp. 461-462)

Fritz held anti-semitism in low esteem for its herd-like qualities and held little respect for Elizabeth's choice for a husband personally. But he didn't make a big deal out of it either, except to his mother. He and his mother had common ground where this Herr Förster was concerned. Fritz made amends with his mother during this time by paying for a proper headstone for his long-deceased father from proceeds received in his settlement against his former publisher.

His summer at Sils-Maria was less productive than in previous years. "During the first three weeks the entire Engadine steamed and stewed beneath a torrid sun in an unprecedented heat wave. Nietzsche cursed the stifling, low-ceilinged smallness of his upstairs bedroom, while also blessing the presence of an 'excellent' old lady named Luise Roder-Wiederhold, whom Köselitz had befriended in Zurich and who had agreed to come to Sils-Maria to take dictation from the 'half-blind professor'. Although not exactly a 'suffergette', she was a 'modern-minded' woman, like Malwida Von Meysenbug, whose heart had throbbed and fluttered during the heady revolutionary days of 1848, which had rocked so many capitals of post-Metternichian Europe. At times the impenitent idealist had trouble stifling her simmering objections, and, as Nietzsche reported to Resa Von Schirnhofer (still studying in Paris), the old lady was displaying an 'angelic' presence in putting up with his 'atrocious "anti-democratism"'." (page 462)

"In Leipzig, to which Fritz promptly hied himself in order to foil his mother's latest plot - to have him married to the daughter of his former military commander - he was dismayed to discover the enormous inroads that antisemitism had made, not only among Saxons but also in the more 'distinguished' ranks of the Prussian nobility. Schmeitzner had clearly been 'bending with the wind' - something that had not endeared him to Leipzig booksellers, many of whom were Jewish, nor saved him from bankruptcy. His latest 'coup' was a plan to sell his entire stock of unsold books, including thousands of volumes authored by Nietzsche, to a Chemnitz rogue named Erlecke, who was going to dispose of them at a public auction. The price Schmeitzner was demanding to save these volumes was 14,000 marks! In a rage, Nietzsche hired the services of a clever Jewish lawyer named Kaufmann who, by order Schmeitzner's father to honor his pledge, managed to extract close to 6,000 marks from the bankrupt publisher." (page 465)

"On receiving the money, after paying off some book bills, Nietzsche insisted that he, and not his mother, should pay for a properly inscribed gravestone to be laid at his father's grave - in order, surely, to erase her remark that he was a 'disgrace to his father's grave'." (Young, page 401)

"On 14 October Fritz made made a two-day visit to Naumburg, to celebrate this forty-first birthday with his mother, his sister Elisabeth and her husband, Bernhard Förster, whom he now met for the first time. Assuming his most affable mask, he was hypocritical enough to praise the couple's Paraguayan venture, even though privately he shared his his mother's deep misgivings. For if 'Lieschen' brought up in provincial Naumburg, knew little about milking cows and raising hens, her husband, a former schoolteacher from Berlin, knew even less." (Cate, page 465)

"The normally painful Christmas season passed without a major seizure, even if Nietzsche's solitude at times was distinctly melancholic. He no needed sleeping tablets, preferring in the evening to drink a hot grog or a bottle of Munich's Kindl-Brau beer to assure a restful night. On Christmas Day he had himself driven in a carriage to the lovely promontory of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, from where he returned on foot, ending up in a park where young soldiers were playing bowls. 'Fresh roses and geraniums in the hedges, and everything green and warm: not at all Nordic!' as he wrote in a New Year's letter to his sister Elisabeth and her husband. After emptying three large glasses of sweet white wine, he felt 'a wee bit drunk'. In which mellow condition he found himself driven the rest of the way in to Nice, where he was offered a 'princely' dinner at the Pension de Geneve, in a dining-room aglow with a large Christmas tree and candles.

"Stimulated by an 'everlasting' succession of bright, sun-blessed days, he soon made up for the time he had wasted during the three summer months at Sils-Maria. In mid-January 1886 he wrote to Hermann Credner, one of the editors of the 'respectable' Veit publishing company in Leipzig, to ask if he would be interested in bringing out a new Nietzsche book: a second, follow-up to Morgenrote, carrying the subtitle 'Thoughts on Moral Prejudices', which he had written for 'intellectual daredevils and gourmets'." (pp. 466-467)

"Thanks to two woolen shirts his brother-in-law had thoughtfully given him as a present, Nietzsche was able to survive many freezing nights in the unseated room during an exceptionally cold winter. On 27 Match he informed Hermann Credner that he had virtually completed the tiresome chore of copying out a legible script for his new book, which he had decided to rename Jenseits von Gut und Bose (Beyond Good and Evil). He followed up several days later with a second letter of explanation, accompanied by two poems - the first of which, a hymn of praise to the 'Mistral' wind, was intended to 'introduce' the book, while the second summed everything up in a verse finale." (pp. 467-468)

"In early June he moved to Leipzig to take personal charge of operations. He had already asked his trustworthy printer, Naumann, to provide him with what it would cost to have his new book - roughly the same length as The Joyous Science - typeset and published at his expense with a print order of 1,000 copies. The estimate was higher than expected but Nietzsche had no choice but to accept....By early July Nietzsche was back again in his 'hermit's cell' at Sils-Maria, after making a two-night stopover in Chur, where he read more page-proofs and treated himself to a long, headache-dispelling walk through thick pine woods. Meanwhile, in Leipzig, Ernst Wilhelm Fritzsch found it difficult to strike a 'reasonable' bargain with Schmeitzner. The main reason became glaringly evident when Schmeitzner finally sent Nietzsche an itemized listing of all unsold copies in his possession. Of the thirteen books Nietzsche had so far produced, only two - The Birth of Tragedy and the fourth 'Untimely Meditation' (Richard Wagner at Bayreuth) - had gone into a second edition; and of these second editions no more than one-quarter had been sold." (pp. 469-470)

"Nietzsche's stomach upsets, headaches and insomnia were, once again, psychosomatic symptoms of nervous stress that invariably gripped him between the moment when he sent off a manuscript and the moment when he received the first bound copies from the printer. This time, however, the feeling of joyful relief was twofold. On 4 August he received the first copies of Beyond Good and Evil, and to his delight he found Naumann's competent printers had made only one minor typographical error. The next day he received a telegram from Ernst Wilhelm Fritzsch informing him that he had won his battle of wills with Schmeitzner and was now the lawful owner of all unsold copies of Nietzsche's books." (page 471)

"In early February, when Nietzsche had boldly proposed an initial print order of 1,250 copies - 250 more than the standard order of 1,000 copies he had repeatedly negotiated with Schmeitzner - it was in the confident conviction that, in Beyond Good and Evil, he had produced a résumé of his basic thinking which was more tightly constructed than the ramshackle volumes of the Human, All Too Human type." (page 471)

"Divided into nine parts, like Human, All Too Human, Beyond Good and Evil was two-thirds shorter, with 296 short essays and aphorisms, compared with 638 of the other. The gigantic tree which, in earlier work, had thrown out limbs and branches in all directions had this time been pruned, and the 'sprigs', no longer allowed to sprout at random, had been concentrated into a decorative cluster of 123 short-stemmed but often piquant 'Maxims and Interludes', placed in the middle of the whole." (page 472)

"Leaving Nice at the end of April, 1886, for a short visit to Venice, Nietzsche spent most of May keeping his lonely mother company in Naumburg. From there he moved to Leipzig to take personal charge of the printing of Beyond Good and Evil. In Leipzig he had a few sad, final meetings with Rohde, who had foolishly moved from Tubingen, where he had been very happy, to take up a chair in Leipzig, their joint alma mater, only to quarrel almost immediately with his new colleagues. Nietzsche found himself distracted and homesick for Tubingen, with no understanding for his current philosophy. Rohde, in turn, confided to Overbeck that he could no longer recognize his one-time best friend, finding it 'as if he came from a land where no one else lives'." (Young, pp. 404-405)

"A final reaction to the book occurs in a letter to Overbeck in which Rohde describes his old friend's book as the after-dinner product of someone who drank too much wine, 'almost childish' in its philosophical and political views, the totality of a mere point of view resting on nothing but a mood. The work's point of view is treated as the only possible one, even though in his next work Nietzsche will surely inhabit its opposite. 'I can't take these eternal metamorphoses seriously any more', Rohde writes, revealing the real source of his estrangement: Nietzsche's abandonment of the standpoint he, Rohde, had defended so bravely and passionately against Wilamovitz, he takes as a personal betrayal." (page 406)

Nietzsche gradually lost most of his former friends. His work's seemingly absurd and radical course was too strange and irritating to intimates like Rohde. These were somewhat offset by infrequent visits from his few ardent admirers. But, admirers never stayed long nor did they necessarily remain in periodic contact afterwards. The continuity of human relationships was slowly dissolving from Fritz's intimate life as, step by step, he became more reclusive, as distanced from others as his sister, his close friend, was distanced from Fritz when she moved to Paraguay.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Summer 1884: Moments with Resa

Fritz returned to Sils Maria again in the summer of 1884. By this time, the Lou Salomé affair had greatly dissipated. Fritz still harbored intense resentment but it was held in check, not the life engulfing abyss it once had seemed. Instead, he focused on his work, expanded his note taking, and even entertained a handful of admirers.

One admirer spent the new year with him in 1883-1884. He was a "young Viennese-Jewish zoologist who visited him in Nice." Dr. Julius Paneth wrote about how it was to physically be with Fritz: "...he wanted to write some musical go along with his writings. For he could say some things in music which could not be expressed in words....We spent six hours in excited conversation; N seemed very lively and not at all tired. Everything he said was put simply and gently. His behavior is thoroughly natural and unassuming, serious and dignified; he is most responsive to humor, and a smile suits his features well." (Middleton, page 220)

But, of special interest Paneth notes: "He said he had the capacity for seeing images when he closed his eyes, very vivid ones, which would keep changing; physical discomforts made these images become ugly ones. Also that this proved his imagination was restlessly active, with only a fraction of it coming into consciousness." (page 220)

Dr. Paneth was an exception in one respect to Fritz's general interactions with acquaintances during this time. He was not a woman. "...the extraordinary thing about the friendships Nietzsche formed from 1883 onwards is that...all of them were, not merely women...but feminist women." (Young, page 398). This is a rather startling paradox when one considers that Lou was a feminist and that in the wake of that affair Fritz turned completely against feminism to the extent of becoming a misogynist. Yet, feminist women were among his few ardent admirers and all the women with which Fritz chose to acquaint himself were feminist. Young explains that: "What attracted women to Nietzsche's philosophy was the coincidence between his message of liberation and their own." (page 398)

"What needs to be remembered, however, is that right up until the end - when he wrote her love letters - Nietzsche's ideal woman was Cosima Wagner and his ideal marriage, therefore, that of the Wagners....for a man such as Wagner or himself, a woman capable of being his ideal 'playmate' would have to possess a high level of intelligence and education, would have to be someone, such as Cosima - or Lou - who did read his books....One can surmise, therefore, that, beneath his confusion, Nietzsche never really lost his initial disposition in favor of access to higher education for suitably gifted women. What terrified him was women's access to power, a monstrous regime of women such as Lou: 'women are always less civilized then men', he remarks. 'At the base of their souls they are wild'. This I think is what lies behind the often-repeated sentiment that 'One wants emancipation of women and achieves thereby the emasculation of men'." (pp. 399-400)

Of the handful of Europeans of either sex with an interest in Fritz's work during his lifetime, Resa Von Schirnhofer provides some of the most intimate information on Fritz the human being at the time he was finalizing Zarathustra. Resa visited Fritz in Nice during the spring of 1884 and again in his mountain retreat that same summer. She was a bright and feisty woman, but far less attractive than Lou. She went on a mountain hiking trip for a couple of weeks in the Alps before she visited Fritz again that summer. Fritz had no physical interest in her. He apparently enjoyed her mind as she most certainly did his.

"Nietzsche proved a charming host throughout her visit, Resa's initial awe quickly disappearing before his modest friendliness and the familiarity of his 'professional' manner. He took her to a bullfight (in which the bull was not allowed to be killed) and on his favorite walks. One of these, a climb up Mont Bloom, was particularly memorable: 'we sat down amidst the heavenly mountain nature. It alternated picturesquely between the surrounding hills and, below us, the graceful coastline with its charming bays. The bays were surrounded by a crescent of green, from which clusters of houses gleamed forth like bright flowers. Here I had my first taste of 'Vermouth di Torino' which Nietzsche poured for a sparkling mood and full of humorous inspirations. The 'guarded mountain' was the occasion for a series of verses which tumbled from him one after the other. I was amazed and began then to put in my pennyworth. It was no improvisation of any high art but was amusing doggerel that showed me an unanticipated Nietzsche.'" (Young, page 388)

"On another occasion he took her for a walk along the Pomenade des Anglais and pointed out Corsica, just visible as a smudge on the horizon. This led to a disquisition on Napoleon, whom Nietzsche regarded as intermediate between contemporary humanity and 'the superman'. And he pointed out that Napoleon had the same pulse beat as himself - sixty beats per minute.

"Nietzsche was able to relax with Resa as with few other people; 'a droll one who makes me laugh a lot', he described her to Overbeck. It is true that he also complained that she was not very good looking, indeed downright 'ugly', but, likely, it was precisely the lack of sexual tension that lightened his heart, enabled him to relax and, as with his sister, make up silly verses." (page 389)

Nietzsche also was philosophically intimate with Resa regarding his concept of eternal return. "As Nietzsche rose to leave suddenly his manner changed. With a rigid expression on his face and looking reluctantly all around as though some terrible danger threatened were anyone to overhear his words, and putting his hand to the mouth in order to dampen the sound, he announced to me the 'secret' which Zarathustra had whispered in Life's ear... Another Nietzsche had suddenly stood there and terrified me...Then, without explaining the idea further, he returned to his normal way of speaking and usual self." (page 389)

According to Young: "It seems, then, that lurking within the mild-mannered, bespectacled Friedrich Nietzsche was another being (whom one has, of course, to call 'Zarathustra'), a prophetic figure carrying with him a 'secret' message of world-historical significance." (Page 389). Young believes this may be an early behavioral manifestation of Nietzsche's ultimate insanity.

"With spartan rigor which never ceased to amaze his landlord-grocer, Nietzsche would get up every morning when the faintly dawning sky was still grey, and, after washing himself with cold water from a pitcher and china basin in his bedroom and drinking some warm milk, he would, when not felled by headaches and vomiting, work uninterruptedly until eleven in the morning. He then went of a brisk, two-hour walk through the nearby forest or along the edge of Lake Silvaplana of of Lake Sils, stopping every now and then to jot down his latest thoughts Ina notebook he always carried with him. Returning for a late luncheon at the Hotel Alpenrose, Nietzsche, who detested promiscuity, avoid the midday crush of the table d'hôte in the large dining-room and ate a more or less 'private' lunch, usually consisting of beefsteak and an 'unbelievable' quantity of fruit, which was, the hotel manger was persuaded, the chief cause of his frequent stomach upsets. After luncheon, usually dressed in a long and somewhat threadbare brown jacket, and armed as usual with notebook, pencil and a large grey-Rene parasol to shade his eyes, he would stride off again on an even longer walk, which sometimes took him up the Fextal as far as its majestic glacier. Returning 'home' between four and five o'clock, he would immediately get back to work, sustaining himself on biscuits, peasant bread, honey (send from Naumburg), fruit and pots of tea he brewed himself in the little upstairs 'dining room' next to his bedroom, until, worn out, he snuffed out the candle and went to bed around 11 p.m." (Cate, page 451)  Such dedication and routine was often interrupted, of course, by periods of vomiting, insomnia, and severe headaches, but these did not interfere with Nietzsche's overall productivity.

"One day he took Resa for his favorite walk along the eastern shore of Lake Silverpana. As they came to the pyramidal 'Zarathustra Stone', Resa recalls, a 'plethora of 'dithyrambic...thoughts and patterns' tumbled out of with Nietzsche in a state of 'high emotional and intellectual tension' - the 'other' Nietzsche, again. But as soon as they passed the 'zone of Zarathustra magic' his words lost their 'secretive vibrations' and he relaxed once more into his natural manner." (Young, page 392)

Resa writes about another intimate moment with Fritz at Sils Maria: "After Nietzsche had remained invisible for one and a half days because of illness...I went one morning to inquire about his health. We were told that he felt much better and wanted to speak with me. While my companion waited for me by the entrance of the little house built against the cliff, I was leg over through the gate up into the modest little dining room. As I stood waiting at the table, the door to the adjacent room on the right opened, and Nietzsche appeared. With a distraught expression on his pale face, he leaned wearily against the post of the half-opened door and immediately began to speak about the unbearableness of his ailment. He described to me how, when he closed his eyes, he saw an abundance of flowers, winding and intertwining, constantly growing and changing forms and colors in exotic luxuriance, sprouting out of one another. 'I never get any rest,' he complained, words which were implanted in my mind. Then, with his dark eyes looking straight at me he asked in his weak voice with disquieting urgency: 'Don't you believe that this condition is a symptom of incipient madness? My father died of brain disease.' Deeply saddened by this completely unexpected question, I saw all kinds of thoughts pass through my mind, and I suddenly remembered a lady suffering from a persecution complex who had surprised me with a similar question. I did not answer right away, and for a second time Nietzsche asked me this heart-rending question, which seemed to me to reveal a great, almost uncontrollable state of anxiety. I was bewildered, but felt I had to say something reassuring, though against my intuitive grasp of the situation, and I declared in a definite tone that these excitation phenomena of the optical nerves of his weak eyes were certainly not presages of mental illness, etc; and on parting I wished him a quick recovery from his seizure." (pp. 164-165). Obviously, this is the same mental phenomenon noted by Dr. Paneth above.

According to Young: "Not until later did it occur to her that the hallucinations could be the result of chloral hydrate and other drugs, possibly including hashish, that he had obtained in Rapallo, mostly by the simple expedient of signing the prescription 'Dr. Nietzsche', his credentials never once having been questioned. He also mentioned that he had been drinking English (Irish?) stout and pale ale." (page 392)

The events concerning Fritz's strange visions and shifts in behavior are substantiated by Cate as well. He adds to the walk Fritz took with Resa to the Zarathustra Stone: "...a lovely spot where, as she later recalled, 'the dark green lake, the nearby wood, the high mountains, the solemn silence together weave their magic'." Cate mentions that Fritz also discussed the writing of Zarathustra with Resa in that moment. "...a humble account of how amazed he had been by the bursts of inspiration that has produced the three Zarathustra books, so rich and overpowering that his cramped writer's hand could hardly keep pace with his torrential thoughts." (page 452)

Indeed by 1884 Nietzsche was living an almost exclusively obsessive-compulsive life. The perceived gravity of his deepest thoughts, his brief interactions of intimacy with various people, his embodiment of what was apparently a distinguishable Zarathustra personality type all point to some basic mental instabilities and a certain relationship with his work that is somewhat neurotic. Nietzsche was not yet a fully isolated man. That was still a couple of years in the future. While he could be quite sociable and fun to be, the 'secret' Nietzsche was beginning to take up more and more of Fritz's manner.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Five Letters: Summer 1883

Nietzsche's writing desk and washing basin in his small room at Sils-Maria.
We briefly carried Fritz’s life forward into 1885 in a previous post.  For the moment I want to back up a bit and begin to reexamine in more detail the years in which he created Zarathustra.  1883 found Nietzsche spending his third summer at Sils-Maria.  He had completed Zarathustra II and was taking extensive notes for the third part.  Five letters to four intimate individuals reveal the full-spectrum of Fritz’s state of mind at this time.  He was obsessed with his writing and enthused about his work.  He was still recovering from the final effects of the Lou Salomé affair, the break-up of his friendship with Paul Rée, and he was quarrelling with his sister, Elizabeth, feeling isolated from the family he loved and, indeed, from the whole world.  They reveal a very human side to Nietzsche as he was conceiving and creating his lofty words and ideas.  As always throughout this blog, all word emphasis is Nietzsche's.

In late-summer word arrived that the mother of his long-time friend Carl von Gersdorff had died.  Both men were intimately connected with their mothers, so Fritz wrote what was intended to be a letter of commiseration but it was short on compassion and long on reflections about his own life and current work.

“We have had a hard time of it in our youth, you and I – for various reasons; but it would be beautiful and right if, in the years of our manhood, some gentleness and comfort and heartening experiences would come our way.

“As for me, I have a long, difficult period of intellectual asceticism behind me, which I took upon myself willingly and which not everyone might have expected of himself.  The past six years have been in this respect the years of my greatest self-conquest – which is leaving out of account my rising above such matters as health, solitude, incomprehension, and execration.  Enough – I have risen also above this stage of my life – and what remains of life (little, I think!) must now give complete and full expression to that for which I have endured life at all.  The time for silence is past: my Zarathustra, which will be sent to you during the next few weeks, may show you how high my will has flown.

“I am now in the Upper Engadin again, for the third time, and again I feel that here and nowhere else is my real home and breeding ground.  Ah, how much there is still hidden in me waiting to be expressed in words and form!  There is no limit to the quiet, the altitude, the solitude I need around me in order to hear my inner voices.” (Middleton, page 213)

To his best friend, Franz Overbeck, Fritz summarized the importance of his work to his life as he began to emerge from the troubles of 1882.  His spirit was galvanized by an inspiration to express what he believed to be the profoundest insights.

“I have an aim, which compels me to go on living and for the sake of which I must cope with even the most painful matters.  Without this aim I would take things much more lightly – that is, I would stop living.  And it was not only this past winter that anyone seeing and understanding my condition from close at hand would have had the right to say; ‘Make it easier for yourself!  Die!’; in previous times, too, in the terrible years of physical suffering, it was the same with me.  Even my Genoese years are a long, long chain of self-conquests for the sake of that aim and not to the taste of any human being that I know.  So, dear friend, the ‘tyrant in me,’ the inexorable tyrant, wills that I conquer this too (as regards physical torments, their duration, intensity, and variety, I can count myself among the most experienced and tested of people; is it my lot that I should be equally so experienced and tested in the torments of the soul?).  And to be consistent with my way of thinking and my latest philosophy, I must even have an absolute victory – that is, the transformation of experience into gold and use of the highest order.” (page 214)

His long relationship with Malwida von Meysenbug allowed him a certain familiarity with her in regards to the sordid social affairs of the previous year.  His letter to her reveals how much emotional pain Fritz still experienced some ten months since he had broken off with his friends Lou and Ree.  Fritz was obsessed with his work, but he still found plenty of energy for self-pity and whining.  It is interesting to note that while he was declaring the creation of the “Übermensch” in Zarathustra he still wallowed in all-too-human despair over a romance that never was.  The depth of his bitterness and his association of it in contextualizing human compassion is rather pathetic.

“I have had, and am still having, a bad summer.  The sorry tale of last year has started all over again; and I hear so much that has ruined for me the glorious solitude of nature and has practically turned it into a hell.  According to everything I have heard now – ah much too late! – these two people Ree and Lou are not worthy to lick my boots.  Excuse this all too manly metaphor!  It is a protracted misfortune that this R., a thorough liar and crawling slanderer, should have ever crossed my path.  And for how long have I been patient and sympathetic with him!  But Schopenhauer’s ‘pity’ has always been the main cause of trouble in my life – and therefore I have every reason to be well disposed toward moralities which attribute a few other motives to morality and do not try to reduce our whole human effectiveness to ‘fellow feelings.’  For this is not only a softness which any magnanimous Hellene would have laughed at – it is also a grave practical danger.  One should persist in one’s own ideal of man; one should impose one’s ideal on one’s fellow beings and on oneself overpoweringly, and thus exert a creative influence!  But to do this, one has to keep a nice tight rein on one’s sympathy, and treat anything that goes against our ideal (for instance, such low characters as L. and R.) as enemies.  You will observe this is how I ‘read a moral lesson’ to myself – but to attain this ‘wisdom’ has almost cost me my life.” (pp. 216-217)

With Peter Gast, one of Nietzsche’s most trusted devotees and someone who proofed almost all of his writing at this time, Fritz was more business-like.  He reflected on the state of the Zarathustra manuscript so far and mused about the larger plan Nietzsche had for his work.

“Yesterday the page proofs of Zarathustra II arrived from Naumann; on reading them I found four misprints.  Apart from that, the book is nice and tidy.  I do not yet have an objective impression of the whole thing; yet I feel that it presents a not insignificant victory over the ‘spirit of gravity.’ Considering how difficult it is to present the problems in it.  That the first part comprises a circle of feelings which forms a basis for the circle of feelings in the second part, this seems to me recognizable and ‘a good job of work’ (to talk like a carpenter).  Aside from that, I have all the difficulties and the worst difficulties still before me.

“To give a fairly accurate estimate of the whole architecture, there will be just about as much again – roughly two hundred pages.  If I can achieve this, as I seem to have achieved the first two parts (despite terrible feelings of hostility that I have toward the whole Zarathustra configuration), then I shall have a party and die of delight in the midst of the festivities.  Excuse me!

“Probably I would, from artistic motives, have chosen darker and more somber and garish colors for the first two parts, if I had kept my soul serene and bright this year – for the sake of what happens at the end.  But this year the solace of more serene and airy colors was vitally important to me; and so in the second part I have cavorted about like a clowning acrobat almost.  The detail contains an incredible amount of personal experience and suffering which is intelligible only to me – there were some pages which seemed to me to drip with blood.” (page 217)

Fritz began another letter to Overbeck in late-summer somewhat ominously with “(This letter is for you alone.)”, meaning he did not want his friend sharing its details even with Frau Overbeck.  Nietzsche reflected upon his melancholy feelings throughout the summer even as he had completed Zarathustra II and began consideration of Part Three in his notebooks.  He truly dreaded leaving Sils-Maria and going to visit his mother and sister.

“…I was possessed by evil, black feelings;  among them there was a real hatred of my sister, who has cheated me of the success of my best acts of self-conquest for a whole year, by keeping silent at the wrong times and by speaking at the wrong times. So that I have finally become the victim of a relentless desire for vengeance, precisely when my inmost thinking has renounced all schemes of vengeance and punishment.  This conflict is bringing me  step by step closer to madness – I feel this in the most frightening way – and I hardly think that a journey to Naumburg would lessen this danger.  Quite the opposite – this might give rise to the most dreadful moments; and also that long-developing hatred could break out in word and deed, and I would be the one to come off worst.  Then too, letters to my sister are not advisable now – except the most harmless ones (recently I sent her one letter full of amusing verses).  Perhaps my reconciliation with her was the most fatal step in the whole affair – I now see that this made her believe she was entitled to take revenge on Fraulein Salome.  Excuse me!” (page 218)

Taken together, these five letters provide some insight into the character and personality of Friedrich Nietzsche in 1883.  He was working passionately on developing his mature philosophy in Zarathustra.  He believed himself to be full of “self-conquest” yet he seems blind to his own emotional sensitivity and pettiness.  He had risen out of apparently suicidal depths or at least recovered from a depressing, lethargic period.  This is no small matter as any reader knows from their own intimate challenges whenever they experience a heavy emotional blow. 

Nevertheless, the ideal of the Übermensch cannot be detected in these letters to his closest associates.  He was disenchanted with his family, particularly his sister.  Though the worst was behind him, he was still floundering in the remains of the Lou Salomé affair.  As ever, he was battling his perpetual illnesses.  In truth, Fritz was in a sorry state.  From that perspective, it is rather remarkable that he was able to conceive of the heights of Zarathustra and to begin the formulation of a philosophy that would be revolutionary in its approach to morality, creativity, and power.  He was still overcoming himself in 1883.  In some ways he had succeeded.  In many other respects much work remained yet to be done.  I would venture to say that, at this point, his work was more necessary escapism for him than applied existential reality.