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 compositions...to 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 me...in 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.

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