Saturday, July 1, 2017

The Tightrope Walker Falls: 1889 – 1900

“For meanwhile the tightrope walker had begun his performance: he had stepped out of a small door and was walking across the rope, stretched between two towers, suspended over the street and the people. When he reached the middle of his course the small door opened once more and a fellow in motley clothes, looking like a jester, jumped out and followed the first one in quick steps. 

“...he uttered a devilish cry and jumped over the man who stood in his way. This man, however, seeing his rival win, lost his head and the rope, tossed away his pole, and plunged into the depth even faster, a whirlpool of arms and legs.” (Zarathustra, Prologue, 6) 

“The examination at Jena was essentially similar to Basel, although there are more technical details of the examination given which add little to the total picture. A 'scar' on the penis was noted which had been taken by some to indicate prior syphilis although this is a totally unjustifiable assumption. The papillary asymmetries are noted. Speech again is noted to be essentially normal, handwriting shows tremor 'when upset.' Reading abilities were normal. The major findings, as in Basel, were corrected with his mental state and behavior. He thanked the attendants for his 'splendid reception.' He did not seem to know where he was. At times he seemed to think he was in Naumberg, at times in Turin. He gesticulated a great deal and chattered continuously, often in French or Italian. (It was noted that in spite of his long residence in Italy, he did not know much Italian.) He continually tried to shake the hand of his doctor. Regarding the content of his 'flight of ideas,' he spoke of his musical compositions and sang excerpts from them, he claimed to have counseled 'legations' and to have given service to them. During his speech, he grimaced almost continuously. Even at night he engaged in almost continuous disconnected chatter. Today the patient would be said to be in a state of obvious manic psychosis. 

“The principle concern of the Jena physicians was to reduce the level of excitement. 'Calm, calm and always more calm' was Binswanger's invariable prescription to the mother when she was responsible for his care. To this end, Frau Nietzsche was not permitted to visit her son in the institution until July 29, over six months after his admission. She received regular reports, however, from Dr. Ziehen and an acquaintance, Frau Gelzer, who had information about Nietzsche's condition in the institution. For the first months of Nietzsche's commitment, he continued to exhibit agitated and incoherent behavior in frequent occasions. There was smearing of feces and drinking of urine, facts which were omitted in the first publications of the Jena record. Episodes were reported which suggest erotic or persecutor delusions; for example, on April 1 he told the warder '24 whores were with me at night'; April 17 – 'the most fearful machinery has been turned against me'; and April 19 – 'I want a revolver if the suspicion is true that the Grandduke himself has committed these Schweinerei and attacks against me.' On June 6, he broke a window in his agitation. Frau Nietzsche wrote to Overbeck's wife that she had learned that when Professor Binswanger and his wife sat their garden (he lived on the grounds), they could always hear Nietzsche's loud voice. But on other occasions, he could be quite reasonable, respond sensibly to questions, recognize his physicians and know where he was, and discuss his family. 

“By June, he seemed calmer and was able to take daily walks on the grounds. He occasionally read the newspapers, seemingly understanding what he read and remembering their contents at a later date. He often complained of headaches, reminiscent of his earlier problem with migraine. When there was still intermittent behavioral lapses (smearing feces, grimacing, urinating in his water glass), his overall condition had sufficiently improved so that his mother was permitted to visit on July 29, 1889. She had not seen him since the transport to Jena in mid-January of that year. By and large, the visit went well, Nietzsche seemed pleased to see her. There was no recurrence of the rage reaction directed against her during the trip to Jena.” (Schain, pp. 54-56) 

“Nietzsche's condition was stable during his last months at the Jena institution. He was allowed to take walks with his mother and other visitors were permitted. His old friends Peter Gast and Franz Overbeck visited him during this time and both of them spent hours walking with him. Their observations show considerable perceptiveness, revealing much more about his thought processes than the terse factual entries in the medical record. Gast visited Nietzsche on January 21, 1890. It was the first time they had seen each other in two years. Gast described the visit: 

“'He did not look very bad. I would almost like to say his mental disturbance consists only of an accentuation of the humorous side he formerly displayed when among friends in an intimate circle. He knew me at once, embraced and kissed me and was very delighted to see me, gave me his hand again and again as though he could not believe that I was really there. We spoke much of Venice and what was very surprising to me was that he has, of all things, remembered many of my more burlesque observations.' 

“Later, Gast listened to Nietzsche play the piano. He was amazed at his capacity to improvise, to produce a mood of 'Tristan-like finesse.' However, Gast's optimism did not last as he spent more time with the patient. He became depressed by his recognition that the old independent Nietzsche was no longer to be found. He began to feel his friend did not want to recover, that he 'would be about as grateful to his rescuers as somebody who has jumped into the water to drown himself and has been pulled out by some fool of a coastguard.' He wondered if Nietzsche was in a state which seemed to him 'horrible to say – as though he were only pretending to be insane, as though he were glad to have ended this way!' 

“Overbeck also spent long hours with Nietzsche during these last months at the Jena institution. He marveled how he could be completely lucid at one moment with even flashes of brilliancy recalling his highest moments but then suddenly sink into the most confused fantasies. He was particularly struck with how childishly compliant Nietzsche was most of the time. Like Gast, Overbeck wondered if Nietzsche was simulating madness. 'I cannot escape the horrible suspicion that arises within me at certain definite periods of observation, or at least at certain moments, namely, that his madness is simulated. The impression can only be explained by the general experiences which I have had of Nietzsche's self-concealment, of his spiritual masks. But here, too, I have bowed to facts which overrule all personal thoughts and speculations. Basically, Overbeck found no reason to alter the opinion he expressed on January 17, 1889, after he had said good-bye to Nietzsche at the train station on his way to Jena – 'It is all over with him.' 

“As Nietzsche steadily improved with respect to tractability, Frau Nietzsche rented an apartment in Jena in order to be with her son daily. He spent much of each day with her either on walks or in her apartment. His mother was pleased that he was improvising so much, but Peter Gast, who had remained in Jena, wrote: 'Nietzsche is but a mockery of his old self! My eyes fill with tears when I think of it.' The crusader for spiritual independence had become childishly docile. At no time did he ever refer in a meaningful manner to his former literary ambitions. The one feature of his old self which remained was his improvisations on the piano which were marked, according to Gast, by a remarkable profundity of expression. This did not carry over, however, to his personal interchanges.” (Schain, pp. 58-59) 

“From time to time there were still moments of 'Dionysian' euphoria. He was inclined to introduce himself as the Duke of Cumberland or the German Emperor, and as the husband of Cosima Wagner. When a certain 'Baron X' (a patient's report preserves, here, the anonymity of a fellow patient) started to play his zither, Nietzsche would leap to his feet and dance until a warder quietened him down 'He must have been a dashing dancer in his youth', the anonymous patient remarks.” (Young, page 552) 

Over time, however, Nietzsche proved himself stable enough to be released to his mother's care. He moved from Jena to Naumburg in May 1890. “The history of the next two years is one of decline into increasing apathy, with occasional bouts of liveliness. Hopes that Nietzsche might in the end be cured were reluctantly but at last completely abandoned, and Franziska's efforts were bent on keeping him as happy as possible and guarding against any untoward incidents which might lead to his being taken back to Jena – a fate she dreaded more than anything else.” (Hollingdale, page 246) 

In the fall of 1893 Nietzsche's sister, Elisabeth returned. She had visited briefly in 1890 in a desperate attempt to raise funds for her husband's anti-Semitic 'colony' in Paraguay. “Franziska Nietzsche was waiting at the Naumburg station to greet her daughter, along with Fritz, who was carrying a bouquet of roses. Although he immediately recognized his sister, calling her by his favorite nickname of 'Llama', his mother had to nudge her son to get him to hand her the bouquet. After which Fritz began to babble about his experiences in the Prussian army.” (Cate, page 558) 

“In September 1893, seeing that the game was finally up, Elisabeth liquidated what assets she had left and returned to Europe for good, determined to cash in on something far more glamorous and potentially lucrative, the Nietzsche business. Legally changing her name to Forster-Nietzsche (a contradictory combination of anti-Semitism and anti-anti-Semitism), she devoted her enormous reserves of energy, ruthless lack of scruples, and unlimited will to power to taking complete control of the Nietzsche business, to obtain sole control over both his works and what remained of his life.” (Young, page 554) 

Perhaps the greatest irony of Nietzsche's life is that the fame he pretended so desperately not to desire came to him after he went insane. Cate reports that “a second edition (with print orders of 1,000 copies) of Beyond Good and Evil, The Genealogy of Morals, and The Case of Wagner, to satisfy a demand which was steadily growing.” (page 558) 

By the time Elisabeth moved back for good, she could see the growing value in her brother's work. Lou Salomé also chose to cash in on her association with Fritz by publishing a successful biography of him in 1894. (I plan to review this biography in a future post.)  After that, Nietzsche's works were constantly being reprinted. Peter Gast, who for many years deciphered Nietzsche's handwriting to make final drafts legible for the publisher, almost completely devoted himself to publishing new editions. 

“On the 1st October 1893 [Franziska Nietzsche] wrote that he was still looking healthy and spent much of the time sitting on the veranda; he did not give the impression of suffering in any way and he 'even makes little jokes and laughs at them with us [i.e. herself and Elisabeth] in a perfectly natural way'. He was well for Christmas of that year but in March 1894 he was very sick, shouting and singing for hours on end, although again he seemed to be suffering no pain – 'he looks quite pleased with himself' (letter of 29th March). In the same letter she says that the daily walks have now had to be given up: as soon as they turn the street corner, Nietzsche asks 'Where is our house?' and is not happy until he is back there. 

“At Easter 1894 Rohde paid his first visit to the invalid, at Elisabeth's invitation: '...he is totally apathetic, recognizes no one but his mother and sister, speaks hardly a single sentence for a month at a time; his body has become shriveled up and weak, although his face has a healthy color...But he clearly feels nothing more, neither happiness nor unhappiness.'” (Hollingdale, page 246) 

“Gast, who saw him in October, wrote to Overbeck: 'Nietzsche lies upstairs all day dressed in a flannel gown. He does not look bad, has grown very quiet and gazes ahead with a dreamy and very questioning expression...He hardly recognized me any more.' 

“On his fiftieth birthday (the 15th October 1894) Paul Deussen visited him. 'His mother led him in, I wished him happy birthday, told him he was fifty years old, and gave him a bouquet of flowers. Of all this he understood nothing. Only the flowers seemed to engage his attention for a moment, then they too lay unnoticed.' 

“Overbeck saw Nietzsche for the last time towards the end of September 1895. He describes his appearance in a letter to Rohde of the 31st December: 'Five and a half years before I was able to walk with him for hours alone through the streets of Jena, when he was able to talk about himself and knew quite well who I was; now I saw him only in his room, half crouching, like a mortally-wounded wild animal that desires only to be left in peace, and he made literally not one sound while I was there. He did not look as if he was suffering or in pain, apart perhaps for the expression of profound distaste which was visible only in his lifeless eyes. Moreover, every time I went in he seemed almost always to be struggling against falling asleep. He had been living for weeks in a condition in which a day of dreadful excitability, which rose to the pitch of roaring and shouting, alternated with a day of total prostration. It was on a day of the latter kind that I saw him.'” (pp. 246 – 247) 

“By the end of 1893, five volumes of his collected works had been printed. Unable to tolerate work not carried out under her oversight, however, Elisabeth instructed Koselitz [Gast] that his services were no longer required. 'Who made you editor, then?' she demanded, and ordered all copies of his edition pulped.” (Young, page 555) 

Elisabeth maneuvered matters such that she obtained the rights to all of Nietzsche's works from her mother (who died in 1897) and to show her brother off to a select few, turning Nietzsche's home into a living shrine. Nothing could have more anti-Nietzschean than what Elisabeth did to her brother while alive and yet no longer able to function as a human being. Nietzsche became a freak show for Europe's elite culture, which served to truly launch his popularity. You would be hard-pressed to come up with a better definition of comic absurdity. 

“Far from wishing to conceal her witless brother, Elisabeth now turned the Ville Silberblick into a kind of shrine, where 'pilgrims' were received in a long drawing-room, heated in winter by a monumental green porcelain stove, while handsome copies of Nietzsche's books were exposed in various bookcases. The most admiring and socially significant of these visitors were taken upstairs to see the mute 'thinker,' who, to simplify the irksome problem of dressing and undressing him, now spent much of his time in a white linen gown, which made him look like a guru.” (Cate, page 565) 

Peter Gast returned to assist with translating Nietzsche's horrible original handwriting. “Finally, in 1898, a third effort at a collected works, known as the Grossoktav edition on account of the size of the paper used, began under six editors, including Koselitz, whom, realizing his unrivaled qualifications, Elisabeth had lured back to the Archives. Why Koselitz succumbed to the overtures of a woman he loathed is unclear. Possibly he hoped to prevent at least the worst perversions of the texts. If he did he was unsuccessful, since the edition, which appeared, volume by volume, between 1899 and 1913, was a philological disgrace.” (Young, page 556)

Elisabeth heavily edited and outright censored some of Nietzsche's writing to suit her efforts to “mythologize” her near vegetative brother. “It is quite possible that in pulling Koselitz back into into her editorial web, Elisabeth was counting on him not only to edit manuscripts but also to keep her brother musically entertained....But a moment later, when from the corridor came the sounds of rippling notes and rolling chords, as 'Pete Gast' danced with his fingers up and down the keyboard, Nietzsche's body suddenly responded with a feverish spasm of excitement and his 'transparent hands' came together to signal his applause. 

“...this was one of the last times Friedrich Nietzsche would thrill to the sound of piano music. A few weeks later he succumbed to an attack of influenza, which turned into a pneumonic inflammation of one lung. During the night of Friday to Saturday, 24-25 August, he suffered a heart attack. He died a few hours later...” (Cate, page 566) 

“At five o'clock on the afternoon of Monday, 27 August, a bizarre funeral service was held in the jam-packed Archives Room of the Villa Silberblick, amid lit candles, potted palms and heaps of flowers. The musical arrangements, hastily improvised by 'Peter Gast', included a Brahms cantata based upon a poem of Claus Groth's (one of young Fritz's favorites) and a five-voice 'Miserere' which Koselitz had personally composed in the style of Palestrina – both sung by women friends of Elisabeth. Ernest Horneffer (one of the archivists) had been asked to deliver the valedictory, but, feeling this was insufficiently grand for the occasion, Elisabeth had asked the celebrated art historian Kurt Breysig to pronounce funeral oration. Standing awkwardly by the window, he had trouble reading his lengthy text until, after a bit of hasty scrambling, he was able to place his pages on a sewing-box which, propped up against the window sill, served as a lectern. It was an interminable oration, which bored most of the listeners and exasperated one of them, the architect, Fritz Schumacher, who later wrote: 'The same sterile scholasticism against which Nietzsche had fought throughout his life followed him to the grave. If he had arisen, he would have thrown the lecturer out of the window and chased the rest of us out of his temple.' 

“Even more grotesque was the burial ceremony, which, at Elisabeth's insistence and in spite of the protests of the vicar (who boycotted the proceedings), was held the following afternoon in a graveyard of the Rocken parish church – so that Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche could be laid next to the coffins of his father, Pastor Ludwig, and his little brother, Joseph. A male choir, hastily recruited by Koselitz from the mass of Nietzsche and Oehler relatives who converged on the Thuringian village, provided the musical accompaniment. The solemnity of the occasion was enhanced b the ringing of the old bells which, fifty-six years and 318 days before, had joyously announced the entry into the world of Pastor Ludwig's and his wife Franziska's baby son, and which, four years later had tolled the death-knell for the piano playing pastor's premature demise.” (Cate, page 567)