Thursday, June 15, 2017

Becoming Dionysus: October 1888 - January 1889

“On his 44th birthday (the 15th October) he wrote the short passage ’An diesem vollkommnen Tage’ which he placed between the Forward and the first chapter of Ecce Homo and which is in its exalted cheerfulness the most pathetic in his works: 

‘”On this perfect day, when everything has become ripe and not only the grapes are growing brown, a ray of sunlight has fallen on to my life: I looked behind me, I looked before me, and never have I seen so many and such good things together.  Not in vain have I buried my forty-fourth year today, I was entitled to bury it – what there was of life in it is rescued, is immortal.’” (Hollingdale, page 194)

Without question, while there are flashes of brilliance, the major works of 1888 are collectively of a different taste than his writings up through the Genealogy. One great controversy about Nietzsche pertains to exactly when his mental capacities were affected by his approaching insanity.  Was it a completely sudden occurrence?  Was it there all along throughout 1888 and did all his later works bear witness to an increasingly unstable mind?

Certainly Ecce Homo contains sections which exhibit megalomania as we have touched on previously. One can safely say that the first clear manifestation of his mental instability was his elevated view of himself that emerged throughout 1888 but particularly in the last few weeks of the year.

“At the same time the tendency to megalomania, flashes of which, recall, go back to the Zarathustra period, becomes more and more pronounced.  The theme that his work will explode the history of the world into two halves since he is 'more dynamite than man' becomes more and more strident, as does the claim that he is the 'first man' of 'the century'...

“Of course, the more megalomania took over, the weaker became his grasp of reality.  The tentative contacts with Brandes had made on his behalf with, save for Strindberg, quite average people – people, moreover, who were generally interested in, but hardly converts to, his philosophy – were transformed into 'a discipleship' composed solely of 'the most elevated natures: of exclusively high-placed and influential people in St. Petersburg, in Paris, in Stockholm, in Vienna, in New York'. In his mind he had become 'incredibly famous', a superstar: 'there is no name that is treated with such reverence as mine'.” (Young, page 526)

“He achieved an extraordinary measure of physical self-mastery, in contemporary and later medical views.  A strong physis, carefully nurturing with food and exercise, resisted the onset of general paralysis and made his case of syphilis bewilderingly atypical. That he had an unusual body perhaps explains why he lost neither concentration nor artistic feeling almost until the end.  Into December he was revising Ecce Homo, the transcript traveling back and forth between him and Naumann the printer, and he was also assembling Nietzsche contra Wagner.

“The handwriting slipped before the mental grip. Already in June, because of his trembling, the manuscript of The Wagner Case was illegible, with the Latin characters indistinguishable from Greek.” (Chamberlain, page 204)

“Nietzsche seems to have been aware of the encroaching madness but, to avoid the pathos of an acknowledged struggle, would not state it directly. He wore the operetta mask, telling Koselitz: 'You'll also find in my cheerful and wicked 'present state' perhaps more inspiration for 'operetta' than anywhere else: I enjoy so many silly jokes with myself and leave so many clownish private insights that now and again I'm grinning for half an hour in the street, I know no other word for it...'

“Another attack of uncontrollable grimacing and weeping happened at a concert of 2 December.  As he insisted, the outburst could be interpreted as extreme joy in the program of Beethoven, Liszt and Goldmark...”(page 205)

“In his room at least he was safe.  He enjoyed the idea of it as a temple as he had before in Nice.  That he did for once envision it as a temple and not the usual 'cave' augured well for his spirits.  He felt exalted.  On one occasion, while he was working, the jolly melodies of The Barber of Seville wafted gloriously up from the weekly concert in the Galleria Subalpina.  He signed himself 'phoenix'.  He extemporized for hours at the piano.  Out buying fruit, he engaged in cheery conversation with the proverbially unforthcoming citizens of Turin.” (page 206) 

“The first time the Finos noticed that all was not well with their tenant...was the beginning of December, 1888. Nietzsche asked them to remove all the hangings from the walls of his room since he was expecting a visit from the king and queen of Italy, and the room needed to look like a temple to receive them.” (Young, page 528)

“The megalomania...took him increasingly into the realm of political fantasy....On December 31 he writes Strindberg that he has ordered a public holiday to celebrate the execution of the young Emperor, signing the letter 'Nietzsche Caesar'.  Strindberg, who himself only narrowly escaped confinement in a psychiatric institution, replied that 'It sometimes helps to be mad.'

“By January 3 victory has been achieved and world peace established: 'Do you not see how the heavens rejoice?' he writes Meta von Salis.  'I have entered into possession of my realm. I am throwing the Pope in jail and having Wilhelm [the Emperor], Bismarck and Stoecker [the anti-Semite] shot'.  The following day (his own kind of 'final solution') he is 'just now having all anti-Semites shot'.

“All this is, of course, madness.  Yet there is method in it, a vein of fragmented sanity that runs back to the best of his writings.  There remains, first of all, a vein of political sanity, generated by his experience of the Franco-Prussian battlefields.  His remarks in the closing pages of the notebooks on the 'madness' of the dynastic squabbles which 'place the flower of youth and energy and power in the cannon's mouth', and on the madness of spending twelve billion marks a year on preserving the 'armed peace' of the Triple Alliance, a peace which is no peace at all but merely a recipe for a future war, are models of sanity.” (page 529)

“On December 31 he wrote Koselitz that he could no longer remember his street address, but added, 'Let's assume it's the Palazzo del Qurinale' (the residence, in Rome, of the King of Italy).  Many letters were signed 'The Crucified', and even more 'Dionysus'.  (One link between Jesus and Dionysus is that both overcame death.  Both were killed – Dionysus was torn to pieces by the Titans – and were then resurrected to eternal life.)

“As 1888 turned into 1889, then, Nietzsche in a confused way, 'becomes' the god Dionysus.  And with this new identity comes the intensification of the mood of holy joy that he has inhabited since his arrival in Turin at the end of September.  'Sing me a new song: the world is transfigured and all the heavens rejoice', he commands Koselitz, reverting to the New Testament language of his upbringing.” (page 530)

“As he was leaving his lodgings on the morning of the 3rd January 1889 Nietzsche saw a cabman beating his horse at the cab rank in the Piazza Carlo Alberto. With a cry he flung himself across the square and threw his arms about the animal's neck.  Then he lost consciousness and slid to the ground, still clasping the tormented horse.  A crowd gathered, and his landlord, attracted to the scene, recognized his lodger and had him carried back to his room. For a long time he lay unconscious. When he awoke he was no longer himself: at first he sang and shouted and thumped on the piano, so that the landlord, who had already called a doctor, threatened to call a policeman too; then he quieted down, and began writing the famous series of epistles to the courts of Europe and to his friends announcing his arrival as Dionysus and the Crucified.” (Hollingdale, page 237)

Julian Young believes Nietzsche's famous horse hug is more myth than fact.  Regardless, the “doctor” to which Hollingdale previously refers was a psychiatrist. Nietzsche refused to see the shrink, but was fooled by the Finos into thinking the doctor was just a friend of the family. Nietzsche was given bromide to tranquilize him.

“Meanwhile, in Basel, Burckhardt, much perturbed by the 'I'd rather be a Basel professor than God' letter, visited Overbeck on January 6.  The latter, who had been worried about Nietzsche's mental condition for several weeks, consulted with his colleague Ludwig Wille, professor of psychiatry at the university and director of the local psychiatric clinic.  The latter advised him to bring Nietzsche back to Basel immediately, lest he find himself incarcerated in some dubious Italian institution.  

“On the afternoon of January 7, Overbeck arrived at Nietzsche's lodgings, to the great relief of Davide Fino, who, soft-hearted but desperate, had been on the point of calling the police.  Overbeck found his old friend, a shadow of his former self, sitting in the corner of a sofa,” (Young, page 532)

Richard Schain quotes a letter by Overbeck at length: “'I saw Nietzsche in a sofa corner, crouched down and reading – as it turned out, the last proof reading of N. contra Wagner – he looked horribly decrepit; recognizing me, he threw himself upon me and embraced me strongly, breaking into a torrent of tears, then sinking back into the sofa.  I too could hardly stand upright from the shock.  Had he at this moment recognized the abyss opening in front of him or in which he was actually plunged?  In any case, the moment did not return.  The whole Fino family was present. Scarcely had he started moaning an quivering again when he was given some bromine water that stood on the table. In a moment, he was calm again and smiling, he began to speak of a great reception that was preparing for the evening.  So he was in the grip of delusional ideas which never left while I was with him.  He broke forth in loud singing and frenzied piano playing, fragments out of the mental world in which he had been recently living and interspersed and indescribably uttered expressions, sublime, wonderfully insightful and unspeakably horrible things about himself as the successor to a dead God, all punctuated by chords from the piano after which convulsions and outbursts of unspeakable suffering followed – yet as I said, these occurred for only brief moments when I was there; in general, they were outweighed by the profession of his vocation to be the comic character of the new eternity, although he, the incomparable master of expression, was incapable of expressing the rapture of his happiness other than trivial expressions or comical dancing and jumping.  At the same time, the childish inoffensiveness never left him even during the three nights during which his outbursts kept the whole house awake.'

“It appears that Nietzsche danced naked, evoking the antique conception of holy sexual frenzies.  Overbeck might not have read The Gay Science, or if he had, he might have forgotten s. 381 where Nietzsche says, 'I don't know what the spirit of the philosopher would wish for more than to be a good dancer.  The dance is really his ideal, also his art, and in the end, his unique piety, his 'service to God.'” (Schain, pp. 44-45)

“On January 11, 1889, Franz Overbeck informed Nietzsche's only other remaining human contact, Heinrich Koselitz, that the previous day he had delivered Nietzsche, 'or more exactly the rubble of what only a friend would recognize as him, to the psychiatric clinic [in Basel].  He suffers from delusions of infinite grandeur, but also from much else - it's hopeless.  I have never seen such a horrific picture of destruction.' He delivered him to the care of Dr. Ludwig Wille...” (Young, page 550)

“In this crisis Overbeck was aided by the German consul, who recommended a German dentist named Bettmann, well known for his talent in calming hysterical patients. Bettmann, who turned out to be Jewish - as though Fate or Fortune had intervened to help the vehemently anti-antisemitic Nietzsche in this moment of distress – lived up to his reputation.  While Overbeck spent a hectic Wednesday morning cramming many of his friend's manuscripts, letters and notebooks into several trunks, Nietzsche obstinately refused to leave his bed.  But when Bettmann told him that he had to get up to take part in the festivities that were being prepared in Torino, Nietzsche, as docile as a child, obeyed him and got dressed.  There was a tearful farewell with Davide Fino, to whom Nietzsche he become most attached, but also a comic moment when the departing tenant insisted on 'borrowing' his landlord's paplina - the Italian word for 'nightcap' probably suggesting something ludicrously 'papal'.

“There was further trouble at the Turin railway station, where Nietzsche wanted to embrace every passer-by. Bettmann again rose to the occasion, pointing out that such behavior was unseemly on the part of a grand seigneur.  As the train pulled out of the station, the now totally uninhibited professor broke into a Venetian gondoliers' song.  During the all-night trip to Basel Overbeck and Bettmann kept feeding Nietzsche sedatives to calm him. Here again the astute dentist proved his extraordinary competence by explaining to need for this nerve-racking trip: a festive crowd had gathered in Basel to offer the 'returning hero' a triumphant welcome.” (Cate, page 553)    

“Nietzsche's little party was greeted by Dr. Wille at the entry area of Friematt, the mental institution directed by Dr. Wille.  Overbeck thought that Nietzsche had no idea where he was and was fearful what might happen when Nietzsche learned the truth of his circumstances.  However, Nietzsche in his most urbane manner approached Wille directly saying he knew he had seen him before  but could not recollect his name.  'I am Wille' was the response.  In the calmest of tones, Nietzsche responded, 'Wille?  You are an asylum doctor.  I had a conversation with you some years ago about religious delusions.  The occasion was an insane person, Adolf Vischer who lived here or in Basel at the time.'  Wille listened silently and nodded in agreement. Overbeck was amazed at Nietzsche's detailed recollection of events occurring seven years ago but also his complete denial that he himself was now a patient of the Irrenarzt. It was another example, as Overbeck himself put it, 'of the annihilating split in his personality.'” (Schain, page 49)

“Nietzsche's eight days in Friedmatt were characterized by alternating manic excitement and sleeping as a consequence of sulfonal administration. At times he would converse quite normally but then lapse into confused delusional thoughts or singing and joking.  According to a later communication by Wille to Elisabeth Forster-Nietzsche, there was considerable erotic ideation in his flight of ideas.  He continued to express a euphoric state of mind in which he felt strong, healthy, lucky, and capable of anything.  It was noted that he would be calm while he was confined to his bed, but upon rising, the wild excitement would return.  However, on balance, it was thought that the manic behavior was gradually decreasing during his stay at Friedmatt." (Schain, page 50)

“On the 14th Nietzsche's mother visited him.  He recognized her conducted a perfectly rational conversation about family matters until he suddenly cried: 'Behond in me the tyrant of Turin!. And the interview had to be cut short.” (Hollingdale, page 239)

“Nietzsche's mother wanted to take her son home to Naumburg.  She was convinced that under her ministrations, he could become well again.  However, Wille believed this to be inadvisable and would not agree to discharge Nietzsche to his mother's care. Finally, a compromise was worked out; Nietzsche would be transferred to the state psychiatric institution at Jena, which was only a short distance from Naumburg.” (Schain, pp. 50 – 51)

“On January 17, he left Basel in the company of his mother, an attendant from the Basel institution, and a young doctor named Ernst Mahly who had been a former student of Nietzsche's.  He is described as leaving the institution at night, 'closely flanked by both escorts, silent, his face like a mask, and in an unnaturally stiff posture, Nietzsche climbed into the train.'  He was quiet during the first part of the trip, eating rolls his mother provided and reading newspapers with interest.  However, shortly before arriving in Frankfurt where a change of trains was required, Nietzsche fell into a rage, apparently directed at his mother.  It was necessary for her to complete the trip in another compartment.” (page 51) 

No comments: