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.