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.

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