Sunday, January 15, 2017

Euphoria: 1888

“For the summer he went to Sils-Maria and stayed there until the 20th September, when he returned to Turin.  Apart from a relapse in the middle of the summer, he was feeling his health had improved; his spirits were lighter, and he experienced a joy in working which exceeded anything he had known before.  Had his ‘medical knowledge’ been what he claimed, he might have recognized the symptoms and perhaps, even at this late stage, done something to prevent or retard the ultimate consequences: but he did nothing and, in all probability, failed to realize there was anything to be done.

“His decline into insanity took the form of an increasingly intense feeling of euphoria culminating at last in megalomania. As early as February his letters revealed that the overcompensation of previous years was beginning to assume a somewhat heightened coloring: writing to Seydlitz on the 12th, for instance, he says:

“’Between ourselves – it is not impossible that I am the first philosopher of the age, perhaps a trifle more than that,…something decisive and fateful standing between two millennia.’

“By May he was experiencing a sensation of well-being which sent him into cries of rapture: ‘Wonder of wonders,’ he wrote Seydlitz on the 13th, ‘I have had a notably cheerful spring up to now.  The first for ten, fifteen years – perhaps even longer!’ There was no worsening of his condition until the late autumn…” (Hollingdale, page 194)

Spring and autumn were Nietzsche’s least favorite seasons because the weather conditions were so unpredictable no matter where he tried to reside.  In April 1888, he decided to try a new location, Turin, Italy.  The initial trip to Turin from Nice was a disaster. But ultimately he was pleasantly surprised by Turin and declared it to be the “solution for autumn and spring.” The trip auspiciously began with misfortune.

“Early on Easter Monday (2 April) he set out on what he fancied would be a relatively short train-trip. Instead, it turned out to be the most confused and catastrophic of any he had so far undertaken.  At Genoa he had to change to another train.  Just what happened next is not clear. Probably aided by a porter, he had his hand luggage stowed away in a compartment the then wandered off, perhaps in search of refreshment.  Returning, he absentmindedly climbed into the wrong train and soon found himself headed in the wrong direction….This mishap so unnerved him that he suffered a breakdown and had to spend the next two days in a hotel bedroom, while telegrams were dispatched to various points asking the stationmaster to recover the wayward bags. Fortunately the heavy trunk, stuffed as usual with many books, had been registered in Nice and made it safely to its destination, where is was waiting patiently to be claimed by its owner when, utterly exhausted and feeling stupid, the ‘half-blind’ professor finally reached Turin, the proud capital of the kings of Sardinia, Piedmont and Savoy who had contributed so much to the Risorgimento and the recent unification of Italy.

“It was three more days before Nietzsche was sufficiently recovered from his nerve-racking upsets to be able to write a long letter of thanks to Heinrich Koselitz in Venice.  And in what glowing terms! ‘But Turin!’ he began ecstatically. ‘Dear Friend, may you be congratulated!  Your guess is after my own heart. This is really and truly a city I can now use!’ – even though he had been greeted on his arrival by intermittent showers of icy rain.” (Cate, page 514)

“Not far from the Royal Castle, on Piazza Carlo Alberto (named after the father of the present King of Italy) Nietzsche found what he wanted – in a corner house belonging to a newspaper and bookstall vendor named Davide Fino, who was also the superintendent of the public writing-room.  The four-story room he was offered – in a house that boasted a piano! – was small but so well situated that from it tiny balcony Nietzsche could see the green hills of la collina to the south-east, and, on clear days, the Alps to the north-west.  All for a moderate price of 25 francs per month; which, as he wrote to Franz Overbeck on 10 April, enabled him to eat his main meal – usually a minestra (soup) with a meat course – in an elegant restaurant.” (page 515)

“This fortuitous change of habitat galvanized Nietzsche’s creative energies, which in Nice had begun to flag.  So too did his exchange of letters with Georg Brandes, who was so impressed by his perusal of Nietzsche’s books that he decided to give a series of lectures to the professors and students of Copenhagen University.  Astonished that a non-German should wish to honor a ‘vir obscurissimus’ like himself, Nietzsche’s wrote Brandes a long letter of appreciation, accompanied by a biographical summary of his life and works, in which he stressed the ‘indescribably close intimacy with Richard and Cosmia Wagner’ and the ‘boundless trust’ that had existed between them during the years spent at Tribschen, near Lucerne.” (pp. 515-516)

“’I am in a good mood, working from early morning to evening,’ Nietzsche wrote on 20 April in another letter to Koselitz, as full as ever with rhapsodic praise for this ‘capital discovery’ (Turin), where booksellers peddled books in three languages, and where, in an excellent trattoria, for 1 franc and 25 centimes (half the price he had to pay at Sils-Maria) he was offered a tasty meal of risotto, a sizeable roast, vegetable and bread.  Turin, moreover, was nothing less than a ‘Musik-Ort’ (music-spot), boasting twelve theaters, an academia philharmonica, a Lyceum for Music, twenty-one officially registered composers, and a multitude of teachers for different instruments.  Yes, he continued, ‘a small pamphlet on music keeps my fingers busy, I digest like a demigod despite the fact that at night the carriages rattle past: all of them indications of Nietzsche’s eminent adaptation to Torino’.” (page 516)

“As if designed expressly for his needs, Turin possessed over a kilometer of covered arcades through which he could walk in all weathers.  And the sight of the Alps, the mountain air and water, the bookshops, well-stocked in three languages, the excellent food – cheap on account of the many young people attending the university and the military academy – the serene river Po bounding the city to the East with parkland and a shaded boulevard on the other side, all occasioned ecstasies of praise.  ‘Evenings on the Po bridge’, he wrote, ‘heavenly! Beyond good and evil!!’  He loved the café life (as he had as a student in Leipzig), became a connoisseur of gelato, which he found to be ‘of the highest culture’, and loved the palm court orchestra which sometimes accompanied it.

“Nietzsche loved Turin’s rich musical life.  He listened to Rossini, Tchaikovsky, and Goldmark (‘a hundred times better than Wagner’), and congratulated the city for extending Carmen’s run at the Teatro Carignano to two months at the expense of three other operas.  And he loved the fact that operetta was available almost all the time due to the existence of two competing operetta companies.  In Turin his taste for light music became ever more indiscriminate, to the point where he loved almost anything, as long as it was the opposite of Wagnerian portentousness.” (Young, page 487)

It is noteworthy that (for various reasons): “By the beginning of 1888 Nietzsche has all but exhausted his capital, and his friends began to rally round to assist him: Deussen sent him 2,000 marks (possibly with the help of Paul Ree) and Meta von Salis gave him 1,000 francs, and with this money he paid for the publication  in September of The Wagner Case.” (Hollingdale, page 196)

“From Turin, Nietzsche’s correspondence with Brandes continued to flourish.  They agreed that modern civilization is a problem rather than a solution. Nietzsche told Brandes that Part IV of Zarathustra could well bear the title ‘The Temptation of Zarathustra’ and that it is the best answer to his doubts about Nietzsche’s critique of pity.  He told him that ‘the gold-maker’ such as himself, who makes ‘golden’ what mankind most fears and despised, is its greatest benefactor.

“The most exciting news Brandes delivered was that he had held a cycle of five lectures between Aprils 10 and May 8 devoted to Nietzsche’s entire philosophy up to and including the Genealogy, and that it had been a tremendous success, each lecture being attended by over three hundred people. Nietzsche was given to claiming that while composers without fame are like girls no one will dance with, philosophers find fame merely ‘burdensome’.  Nonetheless, bursting with joy, he reported news of the lecture series – with imaginative embellishments – to nearly every correspondent.” (pp. 487-488)

“Brandes persuaded the great Swedish playwright August Strindberg, one of the fathers of modern realistic theater, to read Nietzsche, with the result that he became an ardent fan, parroting Nietzsche’s own judgment that Zarathustra was ‘undoubtedly the most profound book man possesses’. Since Brandes had described Strindberg as ‘a true genius’, even if ‘slightly mad’, this more than anything, perhaps, persuaded Nietzsche that he had finally arrived.  A lively correspondence grew up between the two ‘slightly mad’ writers.  Nietzsche read Strindberg’s play, Pere, a domestic tragedy concerning a power struggle between husband and wife.  ‘I was deeply moved,’ he wrote Strindberg, and was ‘amazed to find a work expressing in such a grand way my own conception of love – the means are war and the ground is deadly hatred between the sexes’.” (pp. 488-489)

“By early June even the fresh air of the Alps could no longer keep the temperature from rising to a hot 31 degrees centigrade.  It was time to leave for the cool highlands of the Engadine.  After saying goodbye to the molto simpatico Davide Fino, to his wife and two daughters (with the younger of whom he liked to play four-handed compositions on the downstairs piano), Nietzsche boarded a train, which, thanks to a new rail connection, could now take him more directly via Como to Chiavenna.” (Cate, page 517)

“During the second week in August the skies cleared and for the first time in months of wintry weather, marked by rain, wind and snow, the Village of Sils-Maria at last enjoyed a tardy summer.  Nietzsche could return the two extra blankets that Frau Durisch, the grocer’s wife, had kindly lent him to keep the ‘Herr Professor’ from freezing during the chilling nights, and it was in a joyous ‘summer mood’, as he wrote to his mother, that he was now enjoying ‘the most beautiful colors I have ever seen here’ – offered in profusion by soft, snow-powdered mountains, dark green firs and larches, silvery lake waters veering in hue from emerald green and turquoise to somber black and (at sunrise and sunset) rose, scarlet red and crimson, under a sky that was ‘completely pure as in Nice’. Meta von Salis chose this auspicious moment to leave the family castle at Chur and to spend two weeks at Sils-Maria, where the thirty-three-year-old ‘Fraulein Doktor’ – the first woman ever to obtain a degree from Zurich University – accompanied the forty-three-year-old ‘cave-bear’ on long walks, and even volunteered to row her curious mentor to a tiny, insect-rich island near the Chaste peninsula, on the Silser lake. (page 519)

“Given his solitary life, Meta recalls, every interruption of his work-filled days was a special event.  She noticed, she later recalled, no signs of mental derangement at all. Nietzsche’s other walking companion was Julius Kaftan, who visited for the same three weeks in August.  Formerly a close colleague of Overbeck’s, now professor of theology in Berlin, Kaftan had known Nietzsche in Basel.  On their walks they engaged in serious philosophical conversations centering, from their opposing viewpoints, on the topic of religion – conversations which may have stimulated the writing of The Antichrist and possibly, too, Twilight of the Idols, both of which were begun very soon after his departure.” (Young, page 490)

“All summer long, when he was not correcting proofs or adding postscripts to The Case of Wagner, Nietzsche had been wrestling and a new text, eventually entitled Der Antichrist (The Anti-Christian), which was intended to be part of the first volume in a collection of four books attacking established values under the overall heading of ’Umwertung aller Werte’ (Revaluation of all Values).” (Cate, page 519)

“Two other visitors caught Nietzsche’s attention.  One was the Hamburg pianist Karl von Holten, who played a private concert of excerpts from Koselitz’ compositions…They also discussed the influential theory of musical phrasing propounded by Hugo Riemann, which, with its insistence that even the smallest musical element should be stressed and phrased, Nietzsche felt, dissolved the musical whole into its atomic elements, a typical manifestation of Wagnerian decadence.

“He also continued a long intermittent discussion of the same issue with Carl Fuchs, which had started way back in October 1884, the latter writing ten or more pages at a time.  He had become somewhat cool toward Fuchs on account of the latter’s trying to remain in good standing with the Wagnerians. Moreover, Nietzsche suspected (possibly unfairly) that as organist of the synagogue in Danzig (Gdansk), Fuchs had spoken of the Jewish service ‘in the dirties possible way’.” (Young, pp. 490-491)

The euphoria Hollingdale mentions above resulted in Nietzsche tackling several major works more or less simultaneously.  “This new burst of inspiration overpowered Nietzsche during the final week of August, when Sils-Maria was again blessed with blue skies and lovely weather.  On 7 September he wrote to Meta von Salis that his earlier report of this ‘washout’ of a summer had been overly pessimistic. For some days now, ‘driven by the spirit’ (of inspiration), he had been getting up at two o’clock in the morning to jot down the thoughts that kept racing through his head. Often he would hear Herr Durisch, his landlord-grocer, stealthily unbolt and then relock the front door as, armed with a hunting rifle, he set out to see if he could bag himself a chamois.  Unforgettable in particular had been 3 September, when he had sat down to write the Preface to his Revaluation of all Values.  ‘I then went out – and behold! the most beautiful day I have seen in the Engadine, blue in lake and sky, a clarity of air, absolutely unprecedented.’” (Cate, page 520)

“Two records of Nietzsche’s final stay in Sils allow us to step out of the perspective of his letters and catch a glimpse of how local people saw him.  A Frau Fumm recalled, in 1938, that:

“’there were three women from Geneva, a Frau Choindron with her two daughters staying with us in the Fex valley. On account of the Geneva ladies with whom Nietzsche was friendly, he came to us the whole summer twice a week fo drink fresh milk.  The friendly convalescent never spoke a great deal…In the end he sought ever more to be alone.  We had great respect for the strange man with the bushy eyebrows.  Later, he suffered headaches all the time. When he did, he walked without a hat and with large damp leaves on his forehead and head.  He would stand for a long time motionless as if rooted to the spot staring into the sky.  And when he walked, swinging his arms and legs in a strange way, everyone laughed at the poor man.’

“A second perspective is through the cruel eyes of children. A Herr Zuan, son of the local schoolteacher, told the visiting philosopher Theodor Adrono, many years later, that:

“’a band of children, to which he [Zaun] belonged, had fun by practicing throwing stones into Nietzsche’s umbrella, so that as soon as he opened it they all fell on his head.  Then he would run after the children, threatening them with the umbrella, but he never caught them.’

“In another recollection recorded in 1938, Zuan recalls that Nietzsche:

“’walked for hours every day mostly in the direction of Chaste.  There on the huge stone, known now as the Nietzsche-stone, he would sit staring thoughtfully in front of him.  And we children would then make fun of him, teasing him, pulling his red umbrella, and would try to put stones in his pocket without him noticing. For the man with the huge mustache didn’t notice what was going on around him.  We called him just ‘the idiot’.” (Young, pp. 491-492)

“On 20 September Nietzsche was at last able to say goodbye to his friends in Sils-Maria – the sympathetic Herr Durisch and his family, the gruffer manager of the Hotel Alpenrose, who did not realize that they would never again lay eyes on this hard-working, hard-hiking, often solitary luncher.  For the first time in years he did not suffer a nervous seizure during the tiring train-trip, even though, near the flooded town of Como, he had to climb down from the railway carriage and cross a narrow wooden bridge by torchlight before traveling on to Milan, where he spent the night.  He reached Turin feeling worn out, but also overjoyed by the warm welcome offered to him by his landlord, Davide Fino, his wife, his son Ernesto and the two daughters. Nothing, to his delight, had changed – neither the crisp, invigorating quality of the air nor the leafy elegance of the tree-lined avenues and river-bank, along which he liked to stride during his daily ‘promenade’.” (Cate, page 522)

Once again, he found Turin highly agreeable. “'Strange!' Nietzsche reported, 'as before, in a moment everything is in order.  Wonderful clarity, autumn colors, an exquisite feeling of well-being spreading over all things'.  The welcome in the Fino household and in his local trattoria was all that could be desired.  As before, he loved being just two minutes' walk from the magnificent castle on the Piazza Castello, loved the open-air theater where one could eat gelato while watching a performance, loved going to operetta after operetta.  For the first time in his life he had his own tailor.

“Though the weather was bad on arrival, this had no effect on either his health or productivity.  And it soon picked up, developing into a glorious autumn: from the beginning of October until well into November there was 'golden beauty, day after day, da capo'. When not working, Nietzsche played four-handed piano with Fino's twelve-year old daughter, Irene, for whom he had developed the same affection as for Adrienne Durisch.  (Sixteen-year-old Giulia, on the other hand, regarded him as weird and would sit staring at him for long periods.)  He frequently visited the excellent bookshops, browsing through new books, though never buying anything.  And, of course, he was a regular visitor to his favorite cafes, cafe Livorno in the afternoons, cafe Florio, (famous, still, for its gelato) in the evenings.” (Young, page 509) 

“By mid-November Turin’s halcyon autumn – a ‘permanent Claude Lorraine’, Nietzsche called it – was over and winter had arrived.  The Alps were already covered with a ‘light wig’.  Nietzsche acquired his first gas stove, amazed that all one had to do to get it going was light a match.  Completely free for the first tie in twenty years from the appalling attacks of headaches and vomiting, he abandoned giving health bulletins in his letters.  ‘Health’, he wrote Meta von Salis, is a ‘standpoint that had been overcome’.  In the mirror he looked ‘ten years younger’.

“Mental well-being followed the physical. Gratitude for release from pain cast a benign glow over everything. Everyone, it seemed, treated him a ‘a person of distinction’, for example, opening the door for him whenever he entered a building.  To live up to his new dignity he bought a superb pair of English leather gloves and attended the funeral of Count Robilant, the ‘best sort’ of Piedmont aristocrat, he confided to Meta.  For the first time in his adult life he felt completely at home.  His days as a nomad were over.  In Turin he felt (as Socrates did about Athens) that he had discovered ‘a place no one wants to leave, not even to walk in the countryside, a place where it is a joy just to walk along the streets! – Previously I would have held that to be impossible’.” (Young, page 523) 

This period of personal elation was the most prolific of his life, with several short but substantial works completed. “During 1888 Nietzsche worked on six short books: The Wagner Case, written in May and published in September; Twilight of the Idols and The Anti-Christ, written during August and September; Nietzsche contra Wagner, the Forward to which is dated Christmas; the Dithyrambs of Dionysus, some of which are poems dating from the Zarathustra period, and the dedication of which (to Claude Mendes) is dated the 1st January 1889; and Ecce Homo, written during the last quarter of the year.” (Hollingdale, page 199)

This was an extraordinary moment of intense, multifaceted introspective writing, reflecting a passionate but turbulent mind, glowing red hot with ideas and the need for self-expression.  But, Rudiger Safranski points out, the quality of these efforts in some ways failed to match the caliber of the works before them.  These works “ longer developed new ideas, but generalized and particularized familiar concepts.  Nuances, objections, and contradictions fell away.  In the process, the directorial and theatrical lavishness of the presentation expanded.

“The central concerns of Nietzsche's last works are, as we might expect, the will to power in its dual version as politics on a grand scale and the individual art of living, a critique of morality based upon ressentiment, and praise of Dionysian as a means of transcending nihilist superficiality and depression....As he continually pointed out, he had burrowed inside and probed himself, looked out into the world with 'many eyes,' and observed himself in the process, peering at his many eyes with even more eyes.  He had plumbed the depths of his soul to the point of exhaustion and exhilaration.  This 'self' had become a whole uncharted continent, which he sought to explore.  All of his investigations kept leading him to the creative force that forms the basis for practical living, art, morality, and science.” (page 305)

But Hollingdale finds reason for praise, however: “The works of 1888 represent Nietzsche's final victory over the German language: the famous brevity of these last works is an effect of absolute control over the means of expression. If there is a stylistic fault is that the effects are too obviously consciously determined.” (page 199)

Before we examine Nietzsche’s collapse into insanity we will review his final major works in the order they were completed with the exception that I will combine the two works on Wagner and consider them together next.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Into Solitude: 1887 - 1888

Nietzsche wrote his Genealogy, which we have just examined, mostly during his fifth summer at Sils Maria.  At the same time, already increasingly a hermit, Fritz practically faded from the social framework.  He became what he referred to as a "cave bear."  He clung to threads of people through correspondences but now he rarely saw any of them personally.  Perhaps Elizabeth had started it all by moving to Paraguay.  For over a year now, letters were all he had known of his once beloved sister. Overbeck and Koselitz and his few lady friends saw him less and less.  He entertained individual friends and couples now and then, but the lively social Fritz of as recently as 1882 was gone. The persona of “Fritz” (playful, joking, interested in the perspective of others) became “Nietzsche” (the solemn, prophetic philosopher) only.

According to Julian Young, Nietzsche felt gloomy at the beginning of 1887 about the lack of sales of his books, his increased feeling of isolation, and the uncomfortably cold winter weather that chilled him to his bones.  During this time three things elevated Nietzsche’s life, however.

“Towards the end of January…his spirits received a lift from an unexpected quarter: a visit to Monte Carlo to hear the prelude to Parsifal. ‘Leaving aside the question of the use of such music and regarding it purely aesthetically,’ he wrote Koselitz, ‘has Wagner ever done anything better? The highest psychological awareness and definiteness with regard to what should be said, expressed, communicated, the shortest and most direct form thereof, every nuance of feeling reduced to the epigrammatic: a clarity of music as a descriptive art…and a sublime and extraordinary feeling, experience, eventfulness, of the soul at the very heart of the music which honors Wagner to the highest degree.’

“And in the notebooks he calls it ‘the greatest masterpiece of the sublime that I know’. ‘Nothing else grasps Christianity so deeply or brings one to have such intense sympathy with it’, he writes, adding that ‘no painter had painted such a dark, melancholy vision’ as do its final bars, ‘not Dante, not Leonardo’.” (Young, page 450)

“The second event that helped lift the oppression of winter was the discovery, at the beginning of February, of Dostoyevsky….In connection with the Nietzsche-Dostoyevsky affinity it is worth noticing that both men (Dostoyevsky after his mock execution and exile to Siberia) were strong opponents of ‘socialism’, ‘anarchism’, and ‘nihilism’, and that both believed in the retention and restoration of the firm, aristocratic, religiously sanctioned social hierarchy of the past. The difference, however, was that Dostoyevsky believed in a Christian aristocratic society.  This is why Nietzsche writes Brandes that while he esteems Dostoyevsky as ‘the most valuable psychological material that I know’, he is, nonetheless, ‘in a strange way thankful to him that he is quite contrary to my basic instinct’.” (page 451)

“The third, strangely cheering event was a major earthquake which claimed two thousand lives on the French Riviera as a whole….Nietzsche, as a man of Prussian bearing and training, ‘strolled’ through the town, ‘attending to people I knew who were sitting in the open, on benches or in coaches, hoping to escape the danger’. ‘I myself’, he adds, pleased to have acquitted himself well in the face of mortal danger for a second time, ‘experienced not a moment of fear – even a great deal of irony’.

“’We are living in the most interesting expectation of perishing thanks to a well-intentioned earthquake which made more than dogs howl, far and wide.  What a pleasure it is when the old house above rattles like a coffee-grinder! When the inkwell declares its independence!  When the streets fill up with terrified, half-clothed figures with shattered nervous systems.’” (page 451)

Nietzsche visited Zurich through the years as a way-station while transplanting his nomadic self between the mountains in the summer and the coast during the winter in a constant quest for the perfect temperature and humidity.  He was only there for a week at the beginning of May 1887. His social competence thrived in that city but there was little to engage him this time, perhaps reinforcing his journey into solitude.

“Mostly, as we have seen, Nietzsche had had good times in Zurich, times of, for him, unusual sociability. On this occasion, however, though Overbeck came over from Basel for a couple of days, he found it hard to catch up with people.  Meta von Salis was under pressure to finish her doctoral thesis while at the same time needing to help her sister refurbish her house, recently gutted by fire.  He did manage to meet up with Resa von Shirnhofer, but only after she returned from Paris at the end of his stay.  Like him, she had discovered Dostoyevsky, which led to an intense discussion about House of the Dead.” (page 453)

That summer, Nietzsche wrote in short, sharp bursts of energy, much as he had since undertaking Zarathustra in 1883. The Good European provides useful a chronology of Nietzsche’s life.  It has an extended entry for July 10-17: “N composes the bulk of On the Genealogy of Morals, the manuscript of which is mailed to C.G. Naumann on July 17. (The third treatise is revised some weeks later in August.) N is pleased by the news that Johannes Brahms has been avidly reading his Beyond Good and Evil. He works on his final musical composition, “Hymn to Life,” based on his and Lou Andreas-Salome’s “Hymn to Friendship”…the “Hymn to Life,” his only published score, is printed by Fritsch at the end of October.  N takes his noonday meal at the Hotel Alpenrose in Sils, where the group surrounding Meta von Salis (including Fraulein Mansuroff and Mrs. Flynn) provides some companionship.” (page 239)

Curtis Cate offers splendid details of Nietzsche’s life in the autumn of 1887. “On September 20…Nietzsche left the chilly highlands of the Upper Engadine and descended via the familiar route and railway stations of Chiavenna and Como to sea-borne Venice.  Despite an electrifying thunderstorm over Lake Como, the trip was relatively painless, while the Adriatic air of Venice seemed to him on arrival of an ‘elastic limpidity’.  He found his favorite maestro (Heindrich Koselitz, alias ‘Pietro Gasti’) luxuriously lodged, fed and cared for by a noble Venetian family, and so completely recovered from his previous morosity that he was delighted to help Nietzsche correct the proofs of his new book.

“Nightmarish, in comparison, was the next train-trip (from Venice to Nice) – brutally interrupted by a breakdown in a dark tunnel between Milan and Genoa, which unleashed violent headaches.  But these were soon dispelled by the ‘intoxicating’ air of Nice and the warm welcome he received at the Pension de Geneve. For a special price of 5 ½ francs per day (2 ½ francs less than the cheapest rate for others) he was given a north-facing room where it was often so cold that Nietzsche suffered from ‘blue fingers’ in the morning. Heeding his mother’s sensible advice, he finally hired a small stove: or what (in a letter to Koselitz) he called a ‘fire-idol’ and around which, once lit, he ‘leaped and pranced’ in a dance of pagan jubilation.” (Cate, pp. 509-510)

Despite his concern for how poorly his books sold, Nietzsche was slowly becoming more widely known. “Before the month of November was over he received a moving letter of thanks – for gift copies of The Genealogy of Morals and Beyond Good and Evil - from George Brandes, a Danish literary critic who had read Nietzsche’s two latest books, as well as Human, All Too Human, without recoiling in horror, Brandes declared that he had found the books ‘the breath of a new and original spirit.  I do not yet fully understand what I have read; I do not always know towards what issue you are headed.  But there is much that accords with my own thoughts and sympathies – the contempt for ascetic ideals and the deep indignation against democratic mediocrity, your aristocratic radicalism. Your scorn for the morality of compassion is something I have not yet been able to fathom….You belong to the few people with whom I would like to talk.’

“It is easy to imagine the thrill with which Nietzsche read and reread this extraordinary letter.  Here, clearly, was an authentic Freigeist who was not afraid to speak his mind, to praise and to avow perplexity, and who, in just two wonders - aristocratic radicalism - had grasped the very essence of his philosophy. Fate, which had treated him so harshly, was now at least beginning to relent, confirming what he had long suspected: that, in accordance with the adage – ‘a prophet is not without honor save in his own country’ – the recognition he so desperately craved would come to him first of all from non-Germans.” (pp. 510-511)

But even as he saw a glimmer of hope for his work to become more widely known Nietzsche felt increasingly isolated, even expressing some regret regarding his lack of intimate companionship.  “He wrote his mother form there on October 18, 1887.  His missive betrayed the effects of protracted solitude, and it included the following barbed words: ‘The fact that ever since my childhood I never heard a profound and understanding word – such is my lot, and I do not remember ever having complained about it’.  On October 22 he departed Venice for Nice, where, however, the sense of isolation only increased.  His final, desperate effort to salvage his friendship with Erwin Rohde, in a letter written on November 11, 1887, ended with the words, ‘I now have forth-three years behind me, and I am every bit as alone now as I was when a child’. The next day he wrote to Overbeck:

“’When I exclude Richard Wagner there is no one who ever came to me with a thousandth part of passion and pain in order to reach ‘an understanding’ with me.  I was alone in this respect even as a child, and am still so today, in my forty-fourth year of life.  The terrifying decade I have now put behind me gave me a generous taste of what it means to be alone, of reclusion to an extreme degree: the isolation and defenselessness of an infirm man who has no means of protecting himself, or even ‘defending himself.’…The best thing I can say about is that it made me more independent; perhaps also harder and more contemptuous toward my fellows than I would like to have been.  Fortunately, I have enough of the esprit gaillard in me to laugh at myself concerning these reminiscences, as I laugh at everything that touches only me; further, I have a task that does not allow me to worry much about myself (a task or destiny, call it what you will).  This task made me ill, and it will make me healthy again; not only healthy but also friendlier toward my fellows, and whatever else pertains to that.’” (The Good European, pp. 201-202)

Music was still vital to Nietzsche's life and one of his few remaining social pleasures.  He frequented concert halls and maintained a special affinity for Bizet's great opera. “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.  It 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.  It is very strange. It is as though I had bathed in some natural element. Life [and evidently thought] without music is simply a mistake’.  Notice, once again, Nietzsche’s continuing attachment to the experience of self-transcendence through music.” (Young, pp. 458-459)

1887-88 seems to be the time he became more self-critical, something that would culminate in his work Ecce Homo in late 1888.  “Among Nietzsche’s many preoccupations during the final winter in Nice and spring in Turin was the fear – which we have already seen in a letter to Overbeck – that he was becoming too hard-of-heart, too harsh in his judgments.  Even though Zarathustra had counseled ‘Become hard!’ Nietzsche feared the excess of hardness, the advance of brittleness, that he sensed in himself.  On February 1 he confided to Koselitz:

“’To lack health, money, reputation, love, protection – and for all that not to become a tragic growly bear; this is the paradox of my current situation, its problem.  A state of chronic vulnerability has come over me, on which, in my good moments, I take my revenge in a way that is not really that flattering, namely, though an excess of hardness. Witness my last book [On the Genealogy of Morals].  Even so, I take all this with the cleverness of an astute psychologist without the slightest moral prejudice: oh, how instructive it is to live in so extreme a state as mine! Only now do I understand history; I’ve never had such profound eyes as in the past few months.’” (The Good European, page 203) 

It was during this time that Nietzsche's plan for his primary life work took more concrete form, which he felt almost as a weight upon him - his life's 'task.' “The year 1888 began, as its predecessor had finished, cold. Sitting in his room in the Pension de Geneve, redecorated with his own choice of dark, reddish-brown wallpaper, Nietzsche found the stove imported from Naumburg ‘de rigueur’ with respect to the otherwise intractable ‘blue-finger’ problem. Seated at his large writing table he had begun serious work on what was intended to be the main event of his life, the production of his ‘systematic masterwork’, The Will to Power, to which all his previous works were the mere prelude.  This was to be a four-volume work of ‘extreme’ and ‘rigorous seriousness’ that would provide a grounding and synoptic exposition of his entire philosophy.  By February 13 he had completed the first detailed plan (with the title now altered to Attempt at a Revaluation of All Values).  But though he continued to work steadily, he suffered from diarrhea and insomnia, with his spirits – not improved by failing to win the half-million-franc prize in the Nice lottery – under the weather.

“Since many of his fellow guests were, like him, hoping the Nice climate would ameliorate their various conditions, dinner-table conversation in the pension centered on climate and health.  A lady from Berlin, for example, suffering from ‘a kind of melancholic desperation’ at home and scarcely able to leave the house, had, she claimed, been completely cured by the dry air of Nice.  A short sharp ‘change of air’, Nietzsche agreed, had much to recommend it.

“As well as the right climate, a rigorous and unchanging daily routine was, he felt, essential: to bed at nine, up at six-thirty, tea with two rusks, an hour’s walk in the morning, lunch at noon, three hours walking in the afternoon, always the same route, dinner at six, no wine, beer, spirits, or coffee, always the same, day after day.

“To relieve the monotony, at the beginning of January he took himself off to another concert in Monte Carlo. This, however, proved a disaster: César Franck and other ‘modern French music or, to speak more clearly, bad Wagner…nervous, brutal, insufferable, demanding, and boastful – and so tarted up’.  It was, he concluded, pure ‘decadence’, just like Baudelaire – ‘libertine, mystical, ‘satanic’, but above all Wagnerian’. A couple of months later, on the other hand, he was charmed by three pieces by Offenbach, ‘buffoonery but in the form of classical taste, completely logical…wonderfully Parisian’, a comment manifesting the ever-increasing taste for light music that marked the final year of his sanity.” (Young, pp. 485-486)

“The four months Nietzsche spent in Nice, from early December of 1887 to the end of March 1888, were the happiest he had yet known at the Pension de Geneve. For the first time in eight successive winters he was spared the ‘blue-fingered’ torments of early morning frosts, thanks to the crackling benevolence of his ‘fire-idol’ stove.  There was a notable improvement in the quality of the food he was offered in the pension’s dining-room, where his most stimulating conversational partner was Baroness Plankner. Related to a court chamberlain serving with the Crown Princess Victoria, she kept Nietzsche well informed of the frail health of imperial Germany’s greatest political hope for the future: the anti-Bismarkian Crown Prince Friedrich, who spent this winter at nearby San Remo, trying to recover from a throat-cancer operation.

“Thanks to a strict diet – no wine, no beer, no alcoholic spirits, no coffee – thanks to long walks (one hour in the morning, three in the afternoon), and thanks to many bright, cloudless days, Nietzsche’s physical sufferings (with headaches and vomiting) were relatively mild.  But, as he confessed to his mother in mid-February, spiritually he was a ‘brave’ but also ‘sick animal’, apt to display a ‘ridiculous and wretched vulnerability’ to shameless superficial reviews of his books.  Equally upsetting was the ‘unbearable tension’ from which he suffered ‘night and day, brought about by the task that lies upon me and the absolute ill-will of all my previous acquaintances towards the solution of such a task.’

“The daunting task Nietzsche had imposed upon himself was nothing less than the completion of a four-volume work intended to supply the crowning arch or dome to the philosophical ‘temple of the future’ he wanted to erect, of which (as he had once written to Malwida von Meysenbug) the Zarathustra ‘trilogy’ was merely an ornamental ‘entrance hall’. This new series, as later planned, was to appear under the overall title, ‘The Will to Power’ (Wille zur Macht) – with the subtitle, An Attempt at a Revaluation of all Values.  Each volume was to consist of three parts, thus resembling The Genealogy of Morals.  In this first, entitled ‘What is Truth?’, Nietzsche proposed to analyze the ‘psychology of error’, to judge the relative worth of ‘truth’ and ‘error’, and finally to demonstrate how the ‘will to truth’, when properly understood, helped to justify the positive ‘yes-value of Life'.  In the second book, devoted to ‘The Origin of Values’, he proposed to deal, more thoroughly than ever before, with 1) his old enemies, the ‘metaphysicians’, 2) the ‘hominess religiosi’ (by which Nietzsche meant persons who are genuinely religious and not merely robed or bearded ‘dispensers of the faith’, and 3) ‘The Good Ones and the Improvers’ – a diatribe against Christian optimists naively bent on improving a wrecked world.  (A fragment of his thinking on this question was later incorporated in Gotzen-Dammerung – Twilight of the Idols.  The third book, aggressively titled ‘The Battle of Values’, would begin with ‘Thoughts on Christianity’ (later developed by Nietzsche in The Anti-Christian); would continue with a study of the ‘physiology of Art’ (i.e. an analysis of ‘healthy’, as opposed to ‘sickly’ art); and would be rounded out with a ‘History of European Nihilism’. The series would then rise to the majestic climax of the fourth volume (‘The Great Midday’), the first part of which hammered home the unpalatable truth that every genuine culture and civilization depends upon accepted Rangordnung (Order of Rank) between power-wielders and subjects.” (Cate, pp. 511-512)

But as this great 'task' took generalized form, Nietzsche, already in a mode of self-critique, hesitated. “Throughout the cold but sunny winter weeks Nietzsche wrestled with his self-imposed ‘task’, torn between an impatient desire to ‘get on with the job’ and a monitory feeling that, in trying to go too fast, he would undermine the solidarity of what he was trying to build.  So disturbing were these contradictory forces that he kept altering the initial outline of March 1887.  He even decided to scrap the overall title, Der Wille zur Macht (The Will to Power), realizing that in the super-patriotic climate of the Second Reich, with its intoxicating ‘Deutschland! Deutschland uber Alles!’ rhetoric, his four-volume magnum opus would be misinterpreted as a philosophical endorsement of Bismarck’s Blut und Eisen (blood and iron) policies.” (page 513)

In the spring of 1888, he visited Turin for the first time.  It would profoundly affect him and would ultimately lead to an explosion of writing - much of which was directed away from the weight of his self-appointed task.  It was as if he dreaded fleshing out the grand ideas forming in his mind or he was simply distracted as his mental abilities took a turn toward megalomania.  Before examining the prolific nature of his final works, we will take a closer look at Nietzsche in Turin and the final, prolific summer at Sils-Maria in my next post.