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:

"'...it 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.